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A “Foundational Sexual Ethic”

“Some homosexual and heterosexual acts, those that meet the requirements for holistic complementarity, just and loving sexual acts, are truly human. Whether any given sexual act, heterosexual or homosexual, is truly human is determined, as is every moral judgement in the Catholic tradition, not by the naked application of abstract moral principles but by a careful, hermeneutical analysis of how these principles apply in real, concrete human relationships.

-Salzmann and Lawler, “The Sexual Person

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“The Sexual Person”: A Reader Responds

In response to my post on the evolution of Catholic teaching on sex and marriage, based on Salzmann & Lawler’s “The Sexual Person”, Mark has placed a lengthy riposte, which he previously placed at NCR on-line (where, he says, he is still waiting for someone to take his questions seriously).

I do not believe that a lengthy contribution such as this deserves to languish in a comment thread, and so have copied it here, as an independent post. I believe that this is an important book which demands to be taken seriously, and equally, so should all commentary on it.

Cover of "Kinsey"

Cover of Kinsey

 

Here’s my beef with Todd & Mike. (Previously posted at ncronline.org):

I’m still waiting for someone to take my questions seriously. As I wrote over a year ago: Submitted by Mark Andrews (not verified) on Feb. 26, 2009.

[Julie Hanlon] Rubio (in words that sound like a quote from the book jacket) says the authors, Todd Salzman and Michael Lawler, are “squarely in the Catholic tradition.” Its more accurate to say the book is “squarely in a Catholic tradition – that of the authors.”

Presuming the good intentions of Salzman and Lawler, their arguments raise a number of questions, if not problems. In no particular order:

1. Epistemology is not so socially and culturally conditioned that humans cannot gain real, reliable of our real existence in the real world. If “it is impossible to gain pure knowledge of nature. We can only reflect on our limited human experience of nature, acknowledging that it is always partial, evolving and in need of application” then how is possible to know enough about the world to survive within it, much less engage in an intelligible exchange of meaning-laden symbols about that world?

2. The replacement of what I’ll call “traditional” complementarity with a so-called “holistic” complementarity appears (as the authors claim) take a wider, more realistic view of actual human relational behavior, and what constitutes “human relational flourishing.” Missing from their analysis is:

a. Full incorporation of Kinsey’s landmark work of observational zoology with respect to the very wide array of human sexual behavior. To appeal to “sexual orientation” as commonly defined – heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual (which the authors do not address in their book) – fails to to see these as mere labels for what is, according to Kinsey, an exceeding wide array of stable sexual behaviors and orientations, most of which lack labels and cannot be easily collapsed into straight, gay or bi.

b. Looking at the ACTUAL wide array of ACTUAL human behavior, who is to say that some other relationship, say a “group marriage,” might or might not support “human relational flourishing?” No where do the authors make this argument – and nowhere do they rule it out. It can’t be done using the authors “flourishing” criteria.

c. Who is to decide what constitutes authentic “flourishing?” An appeal to some abstract, external notion of virtue, say the cardinal and theological virtues? Why privilege those virtues over any others humans may construct or find? If appeal to some external authority is desirable then why privilege a “theological” magisterium over the pastors of the Church? If the ultimate authority is internal, when why address the topic of virtue at all, if, in the end, I and/or my partner(s) are the final arbiters of what constitutes virtuous, flourishing behavior?

d. The hundreds, if not thousands of years of Catholic pastoral experience, in which the Church recognizes itself (or not) in the wide array of human behavior is ignored by the authors in favor something subjective. The real danger here is that people can justify any behavior, no matter how self-serving, as virtuous, flourishing, loving, just, moral, unitive and pro-creative.

The pro-creative aspect is particularly important, as the actual actions of an actual woman and man to bring an actual human living human being into actual existence – in and of themselves without reference to any form of assisted reproduction – trumps any abstract notions of virtuous, flourishing, loving, justice, unity and pro-creativity. Secular marriage and the Christian sacrament are merely recognition of this fundamental cell of human society, within which human beings love their children into being and create an environment in which those children flourish.

I challenge anyone to deny or doubt this. Look yourself in the mirror and ask how you got here. Last time I checked, no amount of non-reproductive sex, no matter how virtuous, flourishing, loving, just or moral, ever brought new life into this world. Its no stretch to use the involuntarily infertile marriage of a man and a woman as an icon for and of the fertile variety. For Christians to say otherwise renders all the nuptial imagery of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures powerless and only loosely metaphorical.

A final thought is the attempt to Catholicize the decoupling of biological sex, gender identification, marriage, reproduction, children and the family seems to have more in common with a transhumanist agenda than a Catholic one. Beware.

 

“The Sexual Person”: Bishops, Theologians Clash on Sexual Ethics

In 2008 two Catholic academic theologians at a reputable Jesuit university published a book, “The Sexual Person: Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology (Moral Traditions)“,  on the Church’s sexual theology which represented a fundamental critique of its entire foundations. The United States Catholic Bishops have now launched a strong counter-attack, concentrating their fire especially on the authors’ section on homosexuality.

I am grateful to the Bishops for this attack: it has brought to my close attention a book that I was previously aware of, but had not considered too seriously. After reading some reviews and the extracts available at Google Books, I will now most certainly read it in full – and will later discuss its conclusions with my readers. As I have not yet had this opportunity to read the book for myself, I will not attempt in this post  to evaluate the content or conclusions. However, I have read the authors’ intent and methods as presented in the prologue, and can contrast these with the bishops’ disappointing response, which I have read and re-read in full. Continue reading