Saturday, December 27, 2008

Fighting the leftist nominalists every step of the way

Kudos and more kudos to my cyber-friend Jeff Culbreath for taking a firm stand against the evil attack on marriage from homosexual activists. Jeff has asked a homosexual commentator never again to refer to another man as his "husband" in Jeff's comboxes. Says Jeff, "That's one piece of fiction I'll not be a party to."

In this post, my co-blogger Zippy Catholic suggested that the re-definition of "parent" by the U.S. Census Bureau (to make illegitimacy rates in the black community appear lower than they really are) is an example of nominalism. One commentator questioned this diagnosis, arguing that someone could believe that there really is an essence to being a parent but that traditional definitions don't cut it. Naturally, this led directly to a discussion of homosexual pretend "marriage."

I'm more than a bit worried about what is going to happen to all of my good Christian friends if and when homosexual "marriage" is put into place (with or without the will of the people) in their parts of the country. It seems to me not implausible that some of them will simply start referring to same-sex couples as "married," to the partners in such so-called "marriages" as each others' "husbands" or "spouses" or "wives" and excuse doing so by saying, "Well, no matter what you think, it really is the law that they are married." They might even think in some confused way that they, even in private conversation, are obligated to "obey the law" by using this terminology. In fact, I suspect that any employer in such a state or any businessman who sells any goods or services to the public and refuses to go along in conversation with the "marital" status of a homosexual employee or customer will face lawsuit. And the comments of this hard-core leftist commentator suggest that conservatives will be told exactly this: "Shut up. Homosexual marriage is now a legal fact. That is what you are being asked to acknowledge. Whatever you may think about the matter, you cannot deny the legal facts now in place. Just refer to those and keep the rest of your opinions to yourself." (Notice, among other things, his reference to "refusing to accept a plain legal fact.") (See also this story about the ostensibly Christian Condoleeza Rice, though some might well question whether Rice is a conservative in any sense worth mentioning. The homosexual pair did not even have any pretense of legal "marriage," but Rice went out of her way to call the one man's mother the other man's "mother-in-law" nonetheless.)

Whether or not arguments about the homosexual agenda usually involve nominalism, that argument (about our using the word in this way because "now that's true legally") is nominalism pure and simple. The idea is that a positive law can simply create a legal reality regarding marriage--however crazy that new "reality" is--and that we can and should now refer to this new reality in our own usage, regardless of "what we think," as though the fact that a man literally cannot be married to another man is a mere matter of opinion. This is all very bad indeed.

I say that all conservatives, Christian and otherwise, who know perfectly well that two men or two women literally cannot be married must resist this usage to their last gasp. Fight it every step of the way. Do not give in to this specious argument about a legal reality. In using this terminology without some qualifier such as "so-called" or scare quotes, you are, whether you like it or not, both caving in to and furthering the homosexual agenda and the erosion of marriage. Just say no.

It's hard to know what arguments would convince a conservative friend who says he's "just referring to the legal facts." Perhaps you could try a few reductios: If the courts or the legislature were to declare that Barack Obama is a god, would we then be merely referring to a legal reality and doing nothing objectionable and contrary to our Christian faith if we went about saying, "Our god, Barack Obama"? If the courts declared that a man could be legally married to a dog, would we not be promoting insanity if we went about referring to his dog as his husband? If the courts declared that a gorilla is a person, would we then merely be referring to a legal reality and doing nothing to further an anti-human agenda if we spoke of "gorillas and other people"?

But I don't know. People get scared. And people adapt with frightening swiftness. I predict, but hope I'm wrong, that when homosexual "marriage" comes to your town, you will find a solid majority of your conservative, Christian friends going about referring to the people involved as "spouses" or "husbands" or "wives" and telling you, "There is nothing I can do about it. Whatever we may think, it's the law now. I'm just telling the truth about their legal status."

But I stand with Jeff. And I hope some others do, too, and never, never, never give in.

P.S. I am not interested in debating "same-sex marriage" here. This is my personal blog, and I'm more draconian here than elsewhere. I welcome comments on the specific issue raised in this post but have no intention of debating the larger issues with homosexual or homosexual-sympathizing commentators. I would love to hear from my conservative readers as to what they think, predict, and intend to do about the terminological matter I raise here.


Anonymous said...

Good post. I enjoyed reading it. I often write about similar things on my own blog.

I agree with you that terminology is important. They never will be married and the language we use should reflect that.

When referring to people who are gay I usually refer to them as people with a "same sex attraction" as opposed to the term "homosexual". I see the word "homosexual" as meaning people who take part in homosexual acts while people with "same sex attraction" merely experience an internal desire. The internal desire is a disorder which needs to be treated and controlled. Homosexual acts are choices that people make to their own destruction.

William Luse said...

As a teacher at the college level in a public, state and federally-funded institution, what would yous suggest I do?

Lydia McGrew said...

Thanks, S.H. I have wondered myself whether I am caving in somehow by using the word "homosexual" as though it defined the person. I've excused myself in doing so by the fact that we do occasionally in other contexts use a term for a person that describes his disordered desires: e.g., "alcoholic" or "kleptomaniac." But it does worry me a bit as to whether I've already moved in the wrong direction.

Bill, I would say that as a college professor, even at a publically funded school, you can probably avoid the worst of the storm. There are all those pesky notions like tenure and academic freedom that may protect you. Plus you aren't dealing with minors as your students. If two students, Joe and Jim, think they are "married," and if Joe drops off Jim's paper for him at your office when Jim is sick, and if you have to talk about this, you can just refer to them as "Joe" and "Jim." They may try various ways in conversation to pressure you into agreeing with them in calling each other "husbands" or "spouses," but you can refuse to be drawn. I suppose a real witch-hunting chairman or a student looking for a grievance might try to manufacture one out of your refusal to go along with the fiction, but he probably can't get very far.

The type of person in a far more difficult position would be a K-12 public school teacher. In those grades the push to incorporate the agenda right into the curriculum is going to be very strong, and academic freedom is pretty much non-existent. If the principal tells Mrs. Jones, the kindergarten teacher, to send students home with a "diversity bag" containing the charming little book _Who's in the Family_ (about two men who live together with the little girl who is the daughter of one of the men), or to read the new Fairy Tale "King and King," Mrs. Jones may lose her job if she refuses. Even more difficult will be situations where little Johnny insists that he has two daddies and that they are married to each other. Kids can be very insistent and very quick to pick up hesitation, and if Mrs. Jones lets slip the fact that she does _not_ think that he has two daddies who are married to each other, the axe will probably fall. Moreover, the two men will probably legally both have to be (or demand to be) treated as parents, even if only one of them has adopted the child, as far as matters like parent-teacher conferences, permission for going on field trips and for shots, and the like.

Medical personnel will face these same issues, and in medical contexts concerning a child the pressure to refer to both men as "your father" will be almost unbearable and the situations in which it comes up very difficult to avoid.

You're relatively lucky to be "only" a professor at a public college, Bill! :-)

Anonymous said...

I'm a teacher myself. If it was a one off lesson I would probably gloss over the topic quickly set it aside and forget about it. If it was a larger unit of work I would introduce both sides of the issue and then set tasks focussing on persuasive writing. That way at least they hear the truth and I get away with it because the topic becomes how to write an argument using "families" as the topic.
With uni students I would go along with what ever they wanted to be called and then go about my business quietly dismantling the "gay" agenda in stealth. Sometimes you need to wear the enemies uniform to go undetected. You can't publicly oppose the homosexual agenda at your work place and still keep your job.

Lydia McGrew said...

I can't agree with you, S.H. As you said in your first post, "They will never be married and the language we use should reflect that." It's a serious form of giving in to say, "Okay, these guys want me to refer to the other guy as 'your husband', so I'll call them whatever they want to be called." That's really furthering their agenda. If it costs you your job not actively to further their agenda in that way, then that's just a sign of what's wrong with the world. But I do think it's a matter of integrity for a person who knows better--a conservative person--not to say shibboleth in that way.

To me, almost the only question on which I'm still not fully decided is whether it's legitimate to keep silence. Though the maxim is that silence gives consent, I'm not sure that's always true, depending on other social signals one sends. If some guy looks you right in the eye and refers to some other guy as "my husband" or "my spouse," I'm currently inclined to think that if you turn the subject aside completely or refer to the other guy simply by his name or as "your friend," you are sending a message, and not all that subtly, either: "I won't be pressured into calling this guy your husband." In face-to-face contexts, such signals are pretty easy to pick up. But I have to say that I really admired Jeff in the thread I linked for speaking up outright and saying, "He isn't your husband."

Anonymous said...

You raise some good points there. In my own mind I am not convinced either way what a correct response should be.

Is there an objectively correct moral response? I don't know.

I suspect it has to do with the individuals personality. Some would be happy to be confrontational while others would not.

I don't think we should ever be silent when evil is occurring but we should be prudent in how we go about speaking up.

Evil prospers when good men do nothing.

Lydia McGrew said...

I'm convinced that it is objectively morally wrong for a person who knows that two men cannot be married to refer to them as married, as spouses, etc. But as I've pointed out, it is in most cases possible not to be confrontational while also refusing actively to endorse their vicious fantasy. Of course, they will be working to try to close even that loophole. But I'm especially speaking against the idea of "calling them whatever they want to be called" or "calling them whatever the law says they are," because that really is endorsing their agenda. There are lots of ways to try at a minimum to find other ways to refer to them--by just their names, for example. Even in working with a child, one could say "Mr. A" and "Mr. B" rather than saying, "Your father" and "your other father" if neither man were really the child's father.

Anonymous said...

The way around it is to just use first names like you said. People usually refer to each other by their name rather than their relationship to each other.

The Social Pathologist said...

In my dealings with these type of people, I have always referred to the other party as "their partner".

A very strict Catholic would probably think that remarried divorcees, adulterers and couples "living in sin" are persons to whom spousal titles do not apply. The push for "homosexual marriage" does not really create any new situation except exposing "civil union" for the absurdity that it is.

Lydia McGrew said...

I think I should respond to your point about other couples, SP. Of the three types of couples you name, only remarried divorcees claim, themselves, to be married. A young man and woman who are living together will say, "We're living together" and will refer to the other partner as "my boyfriend." Part of the whole point of the relationship is that they _don't_ want to be married. This fact even causes tension between them, if the woman wants to get married and the man doesn't. They aren't being unmarried and trying to make you say that they are married.

The same is true of an adulterer. He might divorce his wife for the girlfriend, but until he does, the wife is the wife and the girlfriend is the girlfriend, and he and everybody else knows it, and nobody is trying to sue you for refusing to treat the girlfriend as his wife!

There might be exceptions to this in certain cultural contexts. I have heard that in some black inner-city situations, a woman will refer to each of a series of live-in boyfriends as "my husband." But here it's important to note that the person talking to her might not know that the person is not really her husband. It is at least metaphysically possible that he should be. It would be the kind of fiction you would find out about only with additional data. Whereas if some male refers to another male as his "husband," you know right up front that this is not true and not even possible.

A similar point applies to remarried divorcees. From a Catholic perspective, the first marriage _might_ not have been valid, and there are plenty of Catholic remarried divorcees who got their first marriage annulled. Therefore, a Catholic who speaks to a person who is divorced and remarried a) may not in the initial contact even know that this wife is not the person's first wife, and b) if he learns about the early divorce, cannot be certain that the first marriage was valid.

Some Protestants believe that there can be valid grounds for divorce, so, similarly, a Protestant who learns that he is talking to a divorced and remarried person can often not be sure that he is talking to a person who is not validly married.

None of this applies in any degree to homosexual pairs, who _cannot_ be married, period, under any circumstances whatsoever. When they put their relationship in your face and ask you to refer to it by the terminology of marriage, you can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are asking you to participate in a vicious fiction.

(I can, by the way, think of one case of divorce and "remarriage" where I believe that I know enough of the circumstances in enough detail that I would in all likelihood refuse to refer to the present partners as married. But no one is asking me to do so. And people dealing in simple business relationships with the couple will likely not have my detailed knowledge.)

William Luse said...

...there are plenty of Catholic remarried divorcees...

There's no such thing, unless "divorcee" refers to the civil severance. If the first "marriage" was anulled, there was none to begin with (supposedly - people tend to justify their behavior and marriage tribunals are notoriously lax). But I take your meaning, and your dissection of the comparison is, as so often, "elegant".

I'd quibble somewhat with SP's "homosexual marriage" does not really create any new situation except exposing "civil union" for the absurdity that it is.

Isn't 'civil union' a term invented specifically for the convenience of homosexuals who wish to see their faux unions legally and morally normalized? Perhaps it was around before; I just don't remember it. In any case, of the examples given, all at the very least mimic the form of true marriage by virtue of their sexual complementarity, while, as you say, the homosexual variety cannot claim even that much.

Lydia McGrew said...

The only people I've ever heard advocating "civil unions for everyone" are pro-homosexual activists who think that this abolition of the term "marriage" altogether would be some sort of weird compromise with the conservatives. I've never heard of any heterosexual couple getting a "civil union," and the whole concept of "civil union" was certainly invented, at least here in the U.S., as marriage lite for homosexuals. It softened up the culture and was the camel's nose in the tent. It gave them all the legal status of being "married" without riling the natives too soon by using the name. In fact, one of the most notorious cases involving child custody where a lesbian mother converted to Christianity and repented, fled her state with her daughter (who really was biologically her daughter) and is after a long battle being court ordered to allow her former lesbian lover to visit the child (to whom that other woman is not related in any way), arose from a civil union in Vermont.

I did mean the civil divorce, Bill. My understanding is that annulment tribunals actually require a civil divorce before they will grant an annulment.

Anonymous said...

My understanding is that annulment tribunals actually require a civil divorce before they will grant an annulment.

Apparently this is correct in the USA.

The Social Pathologist said...

For the record, I want to point out that:
1)I agree that homosexuals can't marry.
2)Agreeing to use the terms, husband or wife, with regard to homosexuals is wrong.

But I want to play Devil's advocate, and please remember that I do not intend any disrespect to anyone in the following comments.

Now from a Catholic's perspective, does he also acquiesce to a moral fiction when he refers to a validly remarried--from a Protestant perspective--couple, as husband and wife? It would appear that he is.

Some Protestants believe that there can be valid grounds for divorce
And some Protestants--and some Catholics for that matter--think that there are valid grounds for gay marriage.

Where do we draw the line?

Homosexual marriage is clearly beyond the pale, as it adds sexual perversion to metaphysical falsehood, but metaphysically the union is just as invalid as a union of divorcees. So is the dividing line sexual perversion? Is any type of union OK provided it does not involve sexual perversion? If a Muslim husband comes to see me with two "wives" how do I refer to them? In practice, my respect for their religious beliefs would lead me to refer to the parties with their spousal titles, but am I practicing a fraud? Which religions do I show respect to and which do I not?

From my perspective, the rot starts with the acceptance of divorce, something our society has been doing for years. Homosexual acts are bad morals, but divorce is bad metaphysics. Gay marriage is what happens when newly established bad morals combine with traditionally accepted bad metaphysics. We have been undermining marriage for years.

As for civil unions, they cannot be marriages since they are devoid of a metaphysical dimension. Likewise a civil union has no limit on whom it can co-join, expect more of that sort of rubbish in the future.

Finally after having worked with so many troubled couples I would just like to make the following comments People are stupid, and you would be surprised how many people marry for the wrong reason and without what I would consider "free consent". I'd be a bit more liberal on the annulments but a lot harder on the divorces.

Lydia McGrew said...

SP, I'm not sure if I was completely clear, so let me try to clarify. Suppose that you had the following principle: Never refer to anyone as married if you know beyond all shadow of a doubt that the person is metaphysically speaking not married.

I say that in a very large number of cases you could refer even to people who are civilly divorced and civilly remarried as married, because given your own Catholic principles you could not know for sure that their first marriages had been valid nor that their second marriages were invalid. Hence *for all you knew for sure*, they might indeed be married, metaphysically speaking. You could just give the situation the benefit of the doubt and refer to the couple as married.

But this is not even remotely possible in the case of the homosexual pair, because there you know from the start that it is literally impossible for them to be married. You don't have to know details about the validity of this marriage or that to know that these two men cannot be married. There is no doubt, so you can't give them the benefit of it.

This isn't a matter of "drawing a line." You could follow the above principle with absolute consistency.

That would mean that you couldn't refer to both of the Muslim man's "wives" as his wives, no scare quotes. Such is life.

But it wouldn't be a matter of just drawing some sort of arbitrary line and participating in some falsehoods but not in others.

William Luse said...

On the whole I don't see much to argue with, although I suspect, based on this - but metaphysically the union is just as invalid as a union of divorcees - that you haven't quite accepted Lydia's distinction that parallels between homosexual unions and even defective heterosexual ones are not valid. Even polygamy enjoys the sexual complementarity that I think any definition of marriage must start with. I don't think the dividing line ought to be sexual perversion, because even heterosexuals can indulge it. It is true that when society approves a form of marriage, it approves also the sexual relations to follow, and that when the Massachussetts Supreme Court set its imprimatur on homosexual marriage, it also gave such approval to a sexual perversion that most people find revolting. But that's a consequence, not a cause. First they had to ignore the importance of gender to the health and good order of society.

You seem to want to locate the cause in divorce. I haven't actually thought about it that way before. I've always tended to place the blame for the rather sudden increase in the divorce rate over the past thirty (forty?) years on the widespread acceptance of sterile sex via contraception. When the morality of its use first became debatable in Catholic circles, Anscombe's prophetic caution was that "you might as well accept any sexual goings-on if you accepted contraceptive intercourse." That, in other words, if intentionally sterile sex is morally permissible, on what grounds might we claim to have any purpose for sex that homosexuals don't? And now we find ourselves in the astounding situation that homosexual 'marriage' is a respectable subject for debate. Yet even with the virtually unanimous acceptance of sterile sex in our society, a vast majority still sees the homosexual variety as abnormal and not worthy of legal or moral recognition, and this can only be attributed to that absolutely necessary first condition of a real marriage: male and female.

On the other hand, the increasing acceptance of divorce over time may have paved the way for the contraceptive culture. I don't know. I can certainly see how the transient nature of so many relationships today might incline one toward leniency in defining what a real relationship is. But your worry over whether to refer to the Muslim man's spouses both as 'wives' is more a matter of delicacy than of division between true and false unions. Lydia would not so refer. Ordinary mortals like you and me might in order to avoid giving offense on a personal level, while at the same time fighting to see that our society never approves such a union. But the bigamist Muslim's marriage is a defective variation on the real thing, while the homosexual kind is (to use your word) 'metaphysically' of a different sort altogther.

You would have an ally in Zippy, btw, who once described divorce as "evil, iniquitous, wicked, diabolical," etc. He didn't have much good to say about it.

Lydia McGrew said...

I chiefly see myself as pushing in the discussion with SP the epistemic point. Heterosexual couples who have been civilly divorced and remarried may, from the Catholic perspective, really be married. Epistemically, even the strictest Catholic cannot absolutely rule out that possibility unless he knows circumstances and details (the kind a conscientious annulment tribunal would consider) which one normally doesn't know about people one meets casually or professionally and even not about some of one's friends. One may think it probable that the couple is not truly married, but one can't be sure. So there is the possibility for the Catholic of giving the heterosexual, civilly married, couple the benefit of the doubt. There is no such epistemic doubt in the case of a homosexual pair.

Pearl said...


Thank you for these thoughts. They are very interesting; as are the comments. It is so refreshing to read people who are not afraid to just come out and say that they do not believe in same-sex "marriage" or even civil unions. The effort to normalize same-sex attraction (thank you for that distinction, Secular Heretic) began during the Hippie era and has steadily gained steam through media, language, culture, and now politics. I find this push for "equal" vocabulary very transparent. Gay rights activist do not wish for equality; they want complete and total acceptance of their lifestyle. And what better way to achieve that than to acquire the same language assigned to heterosexual marriage, thus making it politically incorrect to call it anything else?

Thank you. You have inspired me to renewed determination. I absolutely appreciate your dedication to upholding the truth of traditional marriage and family, no matter the personal sacrifice. History, whether ancient or modern, shows that the righteous will always be persecuted by the wicked; though the same is not true in reverse. I think we'll just have to dig in our heels and prepare for the long haul, supporting each other along the way as livelihoods are threatened and jobs are lost. United we will succeed, divided we will fail.

Anonymous said...

It is true that my thinking has been largely similar to SP's on the matter, at least to the extent of seeing (roughly) contraception as the camel's nose in the tent, divorce and cohabitation as its body, and homosexual 'marriage' as its, um, hindquarters. (And as we know, once the hindquarters are in the tent there is no end to the, um, stuff which will get spread around).

Lydia's distinction is something that hadn't occurred to me before she first said it in a combox a while back, though, and I think it is obviously valid. That doesn't in any way excuse the intentional sterility and divorce of heterosexuals, mind you. But it is true that some things are metaphysically impossible as a public matter to even the most casual observer, whereas other things are not. A 'marriage' of two men is one of those things which is metaphysically impossible as a public matter to all observers; 'remarriage' of two divorced people and use of contraception within marriage are not publicly manifest to all observers in this same way.

Lydia McGrew said...

Thanks, Pearl. I'm one of the lucky ones. I don't run a business, and my husband has the job out in the big, bad world. So in a sense, it's easy for me to talk. But talking has its value, too. And the liberals are on to something when they are so fanatical about terminology. They know that winning on the speech front is winning more than half the battle.

Re. Zippy's comment, I'm glad if the distinction is useful. It seems to me that it has obvious practical implications as far as what one can accurately be said to be endorsing when one acts and speaks in society. The perspective that one is being _arbitrary_ to refuse to refer to homosexuals as "married" if one, e.g., also believes that there is no such thing as true divorce but does not inquire into the divorce status of heterosexual couples and consequently refuse to refer to them as married, is one that will be used mercilessly by the homosexual lobby to argue that their agenda is "no big deal" in the present context. On W4 Step2 has tried to argue that anyone who objects to endorsing homosexual "marriage" by selling his services for the "wedding" (e.g., a photographer) is being inconsistent and arbitrary if he doesn't also ask every heterosexual couple who tries to hire him questions about their intentions re. contraception, etc., after marriage. (He has also tried to argue that adoption, all adoption, is just as "unnatural" and "fictional" as homosexual "marriage"--meant to be an argument for homosexual "marriage," of course, not against adoption.)

pomegranate apple said...


Thank you so much for this post. I go back and forth. I try to refer to civil unions even as same-sex couples. If I use the word marriage I put it in quotations. But after reading your post and your friends post--I don't think its right to normalize the situation even in quotations.

Thank you!

Lydia McGrew said...

Thanks, Pomegranate. As you can see in the main post, sometimes I do put the word "marriage" in scare quotes. I think that sometimes that is actually a way of registering protest, and sometimes one needs to use the word in scare quotes in the course of talking about what one is opposing. Certainly, you could get yourself in trouble that way in PC contexts, which probably means it's a legitimate way to register protest. But of course if there are ways around even that in some given contexts, so much the better.

Jeff Culbreath said...

Thank you for this post, Lydia. Great discussion too. As to how far one should stick his neck out over this, professionally, I think that's a difficult question. Is one obligated to risk losing his livelihood? I think probably not in most cases - though I can't help but wish some people would, for conscience's sake, in order to rally the troops.

There is one sense in which drawing the line here is "arbitrary", in that we've already accepted other compromises. The way I see it, I'm drawing my line here because this is where the present skirmish is happening: it's a strategic act. We've got to win this one before we can even dream about rolling back other compromises.

The Social Pathologist said...

But this is not even remotely possible in the case of the homosexual pair, because there you know from the start that it is literally impossible for them to be married.

The impossibility really depends on your metaphysics and theology. The impossibility is more conceptual than practical.Let's say that a religion developed a theology of homosexual marriage, with supporting metaphysical arguments. Homosexual marriage then becomes possible. It's only impossible if your religious beliefs think it so. Do we therefore accept such a religion out of respect for religious tolerance?

Suppose that you had the following principle: Never refer to anyone as married if you know beyond all shadow of a doubt that the person is metaphysically speaking not married.

Good idea, but it wouldn't work in real life and would cause more problems than you think. It would also probably contribute to bigotry amongst Christians. In my line of work you get to know people quite intimately, the "not sure and therefore presume" proposition does not really work. I know plenty of good Anglicans and Orthodox who have remarried, and I imagine I'd cause offence in refusing to refer to their partners with their appropriate spousal titles. I could see more trouble arising from this position that what it is worth.

Till fairly recently, men may have disagreed on the metaphysical dimension of marriage but there was common agreement that marriage, in its instantiated form, involved a union of man and woman.

I will still refer to the remarried spouse of an Anglican as husband or wife, because I am religiously tolerant. I can accept the fact that people can legitimately disagree on nature of the metaphysical conception of marriage. What I am intolerant of, is disagreements with regard to the physical nature of marriage.

The issue here is not really of theology, epistemology or metaphysics. It's an issue of intolerance, of where one draws the line. The line is drawn at a prudential point, and in that sense it's arbitrary. A strict Catholic may draw the line at divorce, a Muslim may draw the line at five wives, but as Conservatives the line has to be drawn at a point at which we can all agree and which would have been consistent with our traditions. Our tradition and Our God teaches that marriage is the union of man and woman. That has to be positively asserted by Conservatives.

Practically this means that one can't be conservative and approve of non-heterosexual marriage. A person who approves of gay marriage is immediately excluded from the fold, whatever their other credentials. Furthermore we must be intolerant of homosexual unions and express that intolerance in a way that is prudentially applicable. Not referring to the partners in such a situation with spousal titles seems most appropriate, come what may.

Happy New Year to all.

Lydia McGrew said...

I certainly think that Jeff Culbreath is on to something when he talks about "where the present skirmish is happening."

As far as sticking one's neck out, I'm naturally not actually all about sticking my neck out (appearances to the contrary notwithstanding). And I definitely think men with families to support have to think twice and three times before being quixotic. Where I would be inclined to draw an important line is between just keeping one's head down and not being confrontational, on the one hand (which seems perfectly legitimate), and giving in to outright demands that one get with the program, on the other hand. When I imagine an employer saying, "Wiggins, you will either refer to that man as that other man's husband, or you will not be working here anymore," it sounds to my ear like a call to battle, like just the place where Wiggins has to dig his heels in. But this does reflect *in part* my own stubbornness of personality and instinctive response to bullying of any kind.

SP, you ended up somewhere different from where I expected you to go when I read the beginning of the comment. I'm of course heartily with you on being intolerant of homosexual "marriage." I think your distinction between physics and metaphysics is an interesting one, but it's not at all clear to me that you can separate those two sharply in this context. I mean, obviously, the homosexual activists think that the physical facts don't matter to right and wrong or to marriage. From their perspective the function of a thing doesn't _tell_ you anything. A particular use of the body is just its function in the sense that it happens to work that way if you want to use it that way. I don't think something at least akin to metaphysics can be entirely avoided here. I certainly think that the natural light casts light on this subject, light which the homosexual activists refuse to see. But I think that light shows us something about metaphysics by way of the physical facts. If not, then the physical facts are just brute facts and get us nowhere.

Lydia McGrew said...

And happy New Year to y'all, too!

The Social Pathologist said...

A particular use of the body is just its function in the sense that it happens to work that way if you want to use it that way.

Ah, the thorny issue of final causes. One of the problems with final cause type of arguments, is the major disagreements that invariably arise on what a thing is for. Both sides usually have pretty reasonable arguments for their case. Ultimately the issue of final causes is settled by asking the instantiator what the thing is for, since final cause is obviously dependent on the intentionality of the creator.
I mean imagine that we have found some sort of object on the ground, and we ask ourselves, what's this thing for? We may find many practical uses for the thing and infer the purpose of the object from its practical application, but until we ask the designer, we cannot be sure of what thing purpose is.
That's why I tend to be more a "Divine Command" sort of guy. As Woody Allen once said, "God said it, I believe it and that settles it." My objection to gay marriage is not that it is irrational, rather that it's Divinely prohibited.
The homosexuals recognise this as well; they don't attack the logic classes in universities, they attack the Religions. Even a very broad but objective reading of the bible, will pretty much convince the average reasonable man that God isn't too keen on homosexuality. Those who think otherwise are deceiving themselves.The Bible reveals to us the intention of the designer so to speak, so their can be no quibble with the sexual act's form.

As for sticking One's neck out, sometimes a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.

Lydia McGrew said...

I certainly agree that the final cause of the body is _causally_ dependent on the intent of the Creator. I don't agree that one cannot _discover_ the proper function of a part of the body without _believing_ in the Creator.

Anonymous said...

My problem with Divine Command is that it is at bottom just a kind of fideism: a rejection of the natural law specifically and of the validity of reason more generally. Furthermore, it does not at all solve the problem of disagreement: it just attempts to relegate it to some other place, so that substantive disagreements can be treated as matters of mere opinion or personal preference.

Ironically enough, as a matter of authority, rejection of the natural law and of the validity of reason are not options for faithful Catholics.

Lydia McGrew said...

Zippy is spot-on that Divine command theory merely backs up the epistemic problem to "how do we know what commands are given by God."

I think, too, that it raises certain issues of culpability. For example, I want to say that people are culpable for, say, burning children with cigarettes, even though the Bible never addresses this specific issue. I would say that if someone says, "I don't believe in the Bible," he is still culpable for engaging in homosexual acts, and that _not_ because if he really examined all the evidence he would accept that the Bible conveys correctly the commands of God against homosexual acts but rather because he ought to be able to see by the natural light that these acts are wrong. Romans 1 more or less teaches as much.

The Social Pathologist said...

I don't agree that one cannot _discover_ the proper function of a part of the body without _believing_ in the Creator.

That's not what I'm saying. One can find the proper use of a thing through reason alone, the problem is proving to others its final cause.

Suppose A and B find a tool on the ground. After studying the tool, A precedes to use it one way, B another. Both have vehement arguments about the use of the tool, but are successfully able to use the tool in the way in which they have envisaged. How do we determine what is the correct use of the tool? I don't see any way out of this conundrum without an appeal to C, the designer of the tool.

C then pronounces that A has been using the tool correctly. C then asks A how he was able to determine the correct use of the tool. A replied that he was able to infer its function through the use of reason and empirical data. B is quite perplexed, since he used reason and empirical data and came to the wrong conclusion.

Reason has enabled us to come to both the right and wrong determination as to the things final cause.(assuming good faith)
This sort of stuff happens all the time in science, where the same data is interpreted differently.
Now, no scientist when faced with this conundrum says reason is invalid, rather one of the interpretations is wrong, one is right: reason has lead to the correct conclusion in one instance. What I'm trying to say is that we can through reason determine what a thing is for, but we cannot demonstrably prove it.

I get the feeling that propositions regarding final causes, may be similar to the category of propositions in mathematics which Kurt Godel showed were true but unprovable.
(I'm about to get stuck into a book about this subject and so may be wrong)

Furthermore, why invoke Church authority if reason is manifestly self-evident? Not all the people who disagree with me are doing so in bad faith. It would appear that reason needs to be "guided" in order avoid reaching the wrong conclusion, otherwise why invoke Church Authority? The schisms of Christianity are based on different interpretations of the same text. All parties claiming to have truth on their side. Who can demonstrably be proven right?

Also, I think it was St Thomas who said, that there are limits to what we can know about God with unaided reason, and that in order to know more about God and his intentions he needs to reveal it to us. Belief in these essentially unprovable statements requires faith; this is not Fideism, it just a recognition of the limits of sense data and rationality: some things may only be settled on faith alone.

the epistemic problem to "how do we know what commands are given by God."

The commands are non-contradictory within themselves and they are congruent with reason and empirical data. St Thomas says as much.

Lydia McGrew said...

I would be willing to bet dollars to donuts that St. Thomas was _not_ referring to anything like the wrongness of homosexual acts when he talks about the need for revelation rather than pure reason. Stuff like the Trinity, sure, we require revelation to know. (Though I would add that the determination of when something purporting to be a revelation from God really is a revelation from God must itself be determined by evidence. But that's a discussion for another day, probably.) Basic ethical matters don't require revelation to know, and I doubt that Thomas would have said that they do.

I think what you're saying, SP, is that reason _underdetermines_ the correct answers to these questions. That may be true in some cases (though I have my doubts, especially if we're to be held morally culpable for doing the wrong thing). I don't think it's true in the case of the wrongness of homosexual acts.

William Luse said...

I would be willing to bet dollars to donuts that St. Thomas was _not_ referring to anything like the wrongness of homosexual acts when he talks about the need for revelation rather than pure reason.

I would too. Reason may be aided by grace, but such private gifts of the Spirit do not amount to a public revelation of what all must believe.

The Social Pathologist said...

I would be willing to bet dollars to donuts that St. Thomas was _not_ referring to anything like the wrongness of homosexual acts when he talks about the need for revelation rather than pure reason.

I think he did. Perhaps not revelation, but grace, reason is not enough. Moral corruption is indeed a wicked thing.

(The essay is a treasure of good stuff, it's worth the read)

Lydia McGrew said...

SP, it's a long essay, and it was a bit difficult for me to find the part that I think you have in mind. Having found it (the quotation about "not without divine assistance") at the end, I disagree with an interpretation of it that takes it to support divine command theory or to imply that man cannot know that homosexual acts are wrong by the natural light. I think that Thomas (and Jay Budz) are referring to the inclination of mankind to rationalize his wrong acts. Divine assistance is required to help us to act in accordance with right reason rather than perverting our own minds by rationalizations of those acts we know to be wrong. None of this impugns the sufficiency of the natural light for seeing that homosexuality is unnatural.

It helps a lot for people to have a Christian background to keep them on the right path, because the heart of man is evil. Divine command theory, however, is still false.

The Social Pathologist said...

None of this impugns the sufficiency of the natural light for seeing that homosexuality is unnatural.

Well, I think once the corruption has set in, one can't see the natural light. The wicked do not rationalise like the just. I'm afraid I'm going to have to disagree with you on the matter. (In a polite way)