It’s becoming harder and harder to talk about what kind of life is rightly lived, except as part of one camp or another. Few people in either camp make the effort to engage those in the other. It’s easier to disparage. And make no mistake – the venom spewed at the traditionalists by the progressives is at least as disgusting as that flung in the opposite direction.
I would propose that those who would amend traditional morality to include homosexual or bisexual practices should elaborate just how far they’re prepared to go. It seems to me that they’re arguing for widening the circle, so to speak, to include alternate forms of sexual practice among those that are considered “OK.” Now, that’s fair enough, but I don’t think it’s sufficient to say, I want everything you’ve ever proclaimed as right and good, Art, I just want gay people and other sexual minorities included within the definition of what is right and good.
But defining what is right and good requires us not only to say what is included within the circle as acceptable, but what is excluded as unacceptable. We’re talking about redefining the boundary, you see. Boundaries work both ways, to keep in and to keep out. So what would those agitating for including gay, lesbian, and bisexual behavior within the bounds of the moral now define as a step too far? What do they consider immoral, beyond the pale, not to be countenanced? Let them say just how far they want to expand the circle before we actually do so.
After all, once we start expanding that circle, on what basis do we stop at gay, lesbian, and bisexual? Why not polygamists? Why not polyamorists? Why not those who want to redefine the age of consent so that what we now think of as adult-child relationships are redefined as proper for sexual contact? All of those are things I have read and heard as seriously advocated by some who also are in favor of legitimizing gay, lesbian, and bisexual relationships. Maybe not all who so advocate would agree, but if we’re all going to renegotiate the boundaries, then let’s all talk about it. What is NOT acceptable?
And on what basis do they make their appeal? They say religion cannot constrain society. Tradition is of no value. The will of the electorate is not binding. Laws can be changed. So on what basis will they say that THIS, which was for so long considered wrong, will now be considered right, while THAT is still wrong, and will be for as long as anyone can imagine? What is the foundation of the morality they would have us all adopt? I’d like to know.
In fact, there is no stable basis for what they want us to do. They just want us to do it, and they want it intensely. But the intensity of their desire is no basis for expanding the definition of good, and certainly no way of keeping out other things that might come in once the boundaries have been opened. They are ASSUMING the stability of the parts of traditional morality they like, while ASSUMING the mutability of the parts of traditional morality they don’t like. They just want what they want, which is to say that their desire is as the Voice of God. Yet, they are very reluctant to say what they will allow their desire to be constrained by. What will they condemn as wrong, even if they want it terribly?
Now traditional morality is not just a matter of heterosexuality = good, while other forms of sexuality = bad. For one thing, traditional morality is capable of saying that some heterosexual acts are wrong, even if someone wants them in the most awful way. Adultery is wrong, as is fornication. That doesn’t mean they’re not forgivable, or should be criminal, but those are other matters. Traditional morality says that taking things in the wrong way hurts the takers. People who sin in sexual matters, even if they sin in the most boring, old-fashioned, man-and-woman sort of way, are not wrong because some authority draws arbitrary lines through human behavior, but because they are taking things in the wrong way. Even if they don’t hurt anybody but themselves, even so, they hurt themselves. All sin is like that, not just sexual sin. And when we point that out, we are not being bigots and killjoys, we’re trying to share something important about the proper value of things with those who are not valuing themselves properly.
Now, we don’t hang scarlet letters on people any more for most of these things, and that’s good. But that doesn’t mean that their behavior is good, either. It just means that for you to believe me when I say that’s wrong, you’re going to have to believe that I love you before you can hear me say that’s wrong, and that will require more of me than just standing on a soapbox and declaiming my morality.
Keep in mind, also, that those of us who are thoughtful teachers of traditional morality prefer to talk about behavior, not identity. The construction of identities – sexual, ethnic, national, or what have you – is a fairly modern thicket to get tangled in. Most ancient authorities know little of it. What the most ancient authorities in just about every society that’s ever been talk about is behavior. Doing X can be wrong or right; but this person’s identity, in itself, cannot be either. We’re talking about the difference between verbs and nouns here.
Likewise, the affections are only potential. What you like is not necessarily what you do, and you can’t be held accountable for it. You may have no opportunity to do what you would like; likewise, you may refrain from doing what you like because you think it is wrong (at least, in this circumstance). Yes, Jesus said, “he who looks upon a woman and lusts after her has committed adultery with her in his heart,” but that doesn’t mean that whenever you FEEL something, you have therefore DONE it. Jesus didn’t mean, “he who looks upon a woman with the result that he lusts after her,” but rather “he who looks upon a woman in order to lust after her . . .” It’s not the WOW that is wrong when someone’s appearance stirs you; it’s the leer that follows after that person out of the corner of your eye. Lots of desires come and go within us – some not very nice – and we need to be careful about where they might lead us, but that doesn’t mean that we have actually engaged ourselves to act upon them.
In my experience, the sexual activists keep accusing us traditionalists of despising their identity, when we have little to say about their identity, as such. They accuse us of condemning their affections, when we have said for thousands of years that all of us are afflicted with all kinds of unruly affections, and there’s nothing new about that. And even when we get around to talking about behavior, they assume that the dividing line is between heterosexual behavior and homosexual behavior, or between those legally married and those not. But traditional morality has things to say to both heterosexuals and homosexuals, to those married and to those unmarried; meanwhile, what is legal is a slightly different category from what is good.
Name-calling is an ugly thing. And there are those who call gay, lesbian, and bisexual people bad names. That’s wrong. But calling those of us who can’t bring ourselves to say “gay is good” bigots is just an attempt to throw sand in our eyes and win the argument by unfair means. If you want to change the moral consensus, then the onus is on you to state not only what you want to change, but how far you are prepared to go – and what authority you call upon to establish the new arrangement you propose. If you can’t or won’t do that, then you’re like someone proposing to remodel a house merely by laying about with a wrecking bar.