Sunday, April 28, 2013

Indifference and Love

There are two common ways by which people deal with those who say that homosexual behavior is "wrong," "bad," a "sin," or something similar. As I noted in my last post, I often get as annoyed by fair-weather "traditionalists" as much as I get annoyed by pro-gay folk, but that doesn't really change the focus of this post. That is, regardless of how unsophisticated a suburban soccer mom's convictions may be, I think her underlying desires are important to analyze. I'll explain what I mean.

The first way is indifference. That is, a person will say, in so many words, "Why do I care what two grown men do in their bedrooms?" For some reason, this is supposed to come across as kind, altruistic, or at the very least, respectful. It is supposed to be a treating of the two men as "adults." Treating them "as adults" is, in its own way, supposed to be a good thing to do. I don't necessarily disagree with this. I think it is important to treat adults like adults, for various reasons that need qualification on their own. But it's not just doing this. It's also saying, "Even if what you are doing is immoral (and I don't want to comment on that to avoid being counter-cultural), I don't care." 

This is, in my estimation, a sort of fusing of political theory with moral philosophy. That is, the general libertarian-individualistic principle of non-intervention "freedom" is being applied to complex moral issues. Since the government shouldn't have laws that stop people from having sex with one another, or so it goes (though they do all the time), normal people shouldn't stop others from having sex with one another or even tell them that they shouldn't. It is an obsession with "rights" and neutrality to the point of absurdity. And, of course, the conclusion doesn't even follow the premise. Just because one may have a right to have sex with someone of the same sex (assuming this true), it doesn't mean that it is good for him to do so.

And this, really, is what I'm trying to get at with this sort of approach. A person who says this is effectively saying "I don't care about your good." This is, for any traditionalist, the equivalent of saying, "I do not love you." (I'll get more to this in a bit.) Now, he could stretch this to mean not that he doesn't care about the gay person's good, but that he thinks the gay person is the better judge of what good is, at least for him. This, of course, is a desire to pull it back to the worship of individualism. Since we are all "individuals" we can figure out what's "good" for us. Almost like a sort of emotivism. As any traditionalists would argue, though, this is patently absurd. "Goodness" is an objective issue. And even at its most basic level, it's difficult to understand in practice. Why, if there is such a thing as morality as it applies to sexuality, would a homosexual have any better authority for determining what is good for him with respect to homosexuality? In my estimation, he would be a worse judge, as he has way more to gain or lose depending upon the answer to the question.

Similarly, the person wouldn't apply this principle to other things, generally speaking. He wouldn't say, if he knows anything about libertarian or individualistic principles at all, that I can decide it's "good" for me to steal from him or kill him. So, the best he could hope for is to say that goodness does not exist for sexuality or other personal issues. And this may be exactly what he's doing, as people with this mindset often think that the only thing that makes a thing "bad" is if it's a violation of a "right" (whoever gets to decide what these are). Why this is the case, that only the "violation of a right" is "bad" and everything else is off-limits, no philosopher I have ever read has sufficiently answered, but there you go. (Of course, they would have to bite their tongue when they are forced to admit that it is neither good nor bad for the alcoholic to keep drinking or the porn addict to keep clicking.) The other alternative, of course (and is probably most often the case), he just doesn't know if homosexuality is right or wrong (because he's spent no time with it), and he doesn't care about homosexuals in any real way (because the homosexual isn't him, and he's got to find his own way to get laid).

The second way is actually a bit of a counter-argument. That is, people will say that they are being more loving (or even more Christian) by encouraging the happiness of the homosexual person in letting the homosexual do what he wants. They implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, say that the anti-homosexual person who doesn't want the homosexual to fulfill his desires actually wants the homosexual to feel sadness. That is, that the anti-homosexual person hates the homosexual, as he wants pain, suffering, and loneliness for him. This strategy is nauseatingly popular. It is the root, I think, for the "STOP HATE" message. As most Western morals go, it is a perversion of an old Christian principle, that we are to love one another. This post was partially inspired by today's Gospel reading on the topic: 
"I give you a new commandment: love one another.
As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.
This is how all will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.”
The pro-homosexual person will say, "THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT WE'RE DOING, LOVING THE HOMOSEXUAL! YOU'RE DOING THE OPPOSITE!" This, for some reason, is really powerful for people. And I think it comes from the absurd, unreasoned, and unjustified sentimentality of the modern world (due in no small part to modern Protestantism). What's been lost, of course, is the meaning of love. Love has turned into something very strange, separated from both its metaphysical and religious roots. It has become, for the most part, just nice feelings. Loving someone then has become willing nice things for them, that they feel good. Reframing it this way has stripped the meaning of the word love in any context, as "feeling good" is based on the person doing the feeling.

But the traditionalist, whether the philosophically-sound one or the casual fair-weather one, says that love is to will the good of another. And they define the good, as best they can, in objective terms: what is good for a human being considering what it means to be a human being. And they recognize that goodness, whether it be in romance, war, work, family, or whatever, does not necessarily mean "happiness" or "good feelings." Goodness for Paul was torture. Goodness for Christ was sacrifice to the point of death. Goodness for a soldier is heartbreakingly leaving his wife and children to go fight and die for a good cause, never to see those who he cares about again. He would be a bad soldier in that he chose his feelings of happiness over his goodness. The same goes for any person, important or not. A good person seeks what is good for him, considering what he is (whether it parent, child, religious leader, or otherwise), which often means sacrifice, depending on the circumstance.

I want to emphasize that this is not an obsession with pain or an aversion to good feelings. It's not, at all. It is instead to aim at a higher good. Whatever consequences occur from that aim is incidental to the goal. It is similar, at least in some part, to the principle of double effect. That I seek goodness in remaining sexually pure but also, in the process of doing so, feel lonely, is not me aiming at loneliness. That I feel lonely sometimes is not my goal, and in many ways it would be a bit perverse to aim at loneliness. It is in this way that it is not consequentialist. It's not just that "more happiness" will ultimately result from temporary sadness, though it might. It's that, considering how life is, goodness often comes with undesired side-effects that we cannot control. Realizing that we cannot always control these side-effects, and realizing that life is not only defined by these good or bad feelings, is what it means to be a good person.

The counter, of course, would be to say that helping the homosexual to find sexual release through a partner is good. I think this is the only valid argument against the traditionalist. But it's not an easy argument to make. This is why, I think, it's usually focused on the emotions of the hypothetical homosexual. "He will be sad and lonely and unfulfilled if he doesn't get his partner!" Even taking this dubious claim as true (is he really going to feel more fulfilled considering his whole life?), this emphasis ignores everything the traditionalist brings up: that goodness is defined by nature, that humans are aimed at more than just sexual partnership, that feelings are only a part of what makes a person what he is, etc. As I said, a more developed and sophisticated approach to goodness that somehow includes homosexual expression would be the most compelling for the traditionalist, but I just don't see it very often. Emphasis is always placed on "completeness" and "oneness" and other such ideas.

The point I'm trying to ultimately make is this: if homosexuality is immoral, loving a homosexual means telling him that what he is doing is wrong, and more importantly, explaining why it is wrong. Moreover, loving a homosexual means providing him a way out of what he is doing. It means, in few words, willing, and making real, his good. Obviously this isn't easy, especially considering the fact that the homosexual (and others) will resent you for saying anything and that we should respect people as adults as much as we can, giving them room to grow and learn in their own way. I'm just trying to address the underlying issue when someone says that a Christian is not being a Christian by telling a homosexual that he is immoral or by rejecting his lifestyle. This is just not true. And even the most unsophisticated parent who can't articulate why homosexuality is wrong but says "No, stay away from that! It's bad!" is doing nothing but loving his child.


  1. The point I'm trying to ultimately make is this: if homosexuality is immoral, loving a homosexual means telling him that what he is doing is wrong, and more importantly, explaining why it is wrong.

    I think the most bizarre thing about this 'you must ENDORSE people's sexual behavior' attitude is that... you know, you mention the libertarian aspect, but I wonder if that's at all applied consistently among people. I can't shake the feeling that a number of people who think that it's wrong to ever, ever judge someone's sexual habits, would be right onboard with banning high-sugar drinks, laws against smoking in one's own home, and just about anything else they regard as either unhealthy or just wrong.

    Even among the libertarians, I can't imagine most would think that, say... you shouldn't criticize someone's dietary habits. I suspect many would say "I don't care how happy it makes you to eat all that, you're a fat pig and you should stop".

    Sex makes people get their backs up against the wall.

    1. Yes, I think this is absolutely correct. I'm just trying to give them a consistent position to more fairly address their arguments. It really is About sex, though, in that sex is the one thing people are unwilling to make any rules about or define any principles. They know they can't. Because when they do, they'll be immediately faced with their own insatiable sexual drives that they are unwilling to control. Making it neutral is more about freeing themSelves than it is about freeing others.

      It's like everyone wants to be in a group where no one has any principles so that everyone can feel justified in their own lifestyle choices. It's an unspoken rule; it allows everyone to fight any guilt or confusion they might feel. Freud would have a field day with it.

  2. I think the key is that, deep down, we all secretly think that Nietzsche was right. Morality really is just the subjective assertion of the will-to-power. People should be allowed to exercise their wills-to-power in whichever way they please, so that they can make their own values. Who are we to tell them otherwise? Of course, most people think like this in only the most confused way. A lot of us still have some of those old traditions weighing us down. The extreme liberals are the most consistent Nietzscheans, and the extreme conservatives the least. But it's only a difference in degree.

    I think you're right, though. Love is totally different from tolerance. Christians aren't called to tolerance, and those who've made it a virtue basically admit to being hypocritical versions of their more liberal cousins.

  3. You know, you are a severe and logical moralist, and I admire you for that. if you are able to live according to this extraordinarily self-consistent and well-integrated code, I congratulate you. Not only that, but I'd want you as a friend.

    The problem with it for me, however, is that I could not persist in this extreme spiritual self-discipline without help from a friend, and I'm sure that I'd admire the friend so much that I'd fall in love with him--that is, I'd develop a "particular friendship," such as what the monastics warned against.

    But, in any case, I'm sure I could only live this way in community with other men, giving each other strength to be chaste and to love each other for the sake of attaining that greater "good" you speak of.

    1. Have you thought about being a numerary of Opus Dei? I'm not sure if you're Catholic, but Opus Dei numeraries are men who work regular jobs, but who are celibate and live in community. It's a special kind of vocation.

    2. A "severe moralist." Heh, I like that! No, I appreciate your admiration, and I would gladly be your friend, assuming you have a sweet video game setup and/or can cook. I don't know what's easier, honestly, doing it alone or doing it with friends. I really don't. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. I will say this. After a certain period of time, it becomes sort of not a huge deal. It's hard to explain, but there it is.

      As I've said before, the most difficult part about the whole thing is finding your place within society. People don't know what to do with celibate people. They respect them, but they don't really want to invite them to their dinner parties. They're sort of Outside of culture in a really sad way. It's actually a pretty big issue, and I plan to do a more serious post on it, but it's difficult to relate to married or dating people, as their plans are always forward-looking, while a celibate person is sort of not invited along for the ride, as he's usually not aimed forward at the same things.

      And I get this, so I'm not necessarily indignant; humans are sort of meant to mate, and everything, really, is related to that mating: where you're going to live, what kind of neighborhood you want to be in, what sort of schools are around, where the jobs are, etc. This is actually the reason homosexual relationships come off as a little...fake to me. I know the feelings are genuine, but when the gay couple buys a house and plants flowers and gets curtains, it's sort of like they're just Playing house. A home is about children and future and growing and nesting. Without children as a natural result of their union, it feels sort of like, what exactly is all of this For? (I would love to hear some homosexual couples discuss this issue honestly.)

      I mean this as kindly as possible, of course, I know some people may take offense to it. Again, I'm not criticizing the closeness the couple may feel, which is surely very strong. I am criticizing the idea itself, for whatever that's worth.

      I know nothing of Opus Dei, so I can't comment on it in any serious detail. Are members of Opus Dei often homosexual, John? Does this create problems? I would imagine it would be a bad idea, me living with other attractive homosexual men in close quarters.

    3. I'm actually not sure about Opus Dei's percentage of gay people. I doubt they do surveys on it. I imagine that it's similar to the priesthood/religious life, which have higher than average percentages of gay people. Celibate vocations are probably more attractive when you don't have the choice of marriage.

      I don't have extensive knowledge of Opus Dei either. I've been to one of their Friday night events, I know a few numeraries fairly well, I went on a retreat led by an Opus Dei priest, and I read John Allen's book on Opus Dei. But I'm not a regular attendee or anything, since they don't have it in my area.

      I guess the main thing that's interesting to me about it is this: it's pretty much the only community living option if you're celibate and don't want to enter the priesthood/religious life. Otherwise you have to just live by yourself while all of your friends get married, have kids, etc.

      John Allen's book on Opus Dei is actually really good, if you're interested.

    4. Regarding the likelihood of gay sex in Opus Dei living facilities, I doubt it happens.

      The things numeraries do as part of the enforced "plan of life" (daily Mass, daily Rosary, daily Angelus, daily examen, daily 15 minutes of Bible reading, weekly confession, weekly spiritual direction, etc.) and the communal norms probably keep that stuff from happening.

      Here's a day in the life of a supernumerary:

  4. Joe K., I certainly don't mean to make a joke out of this, but maybe we should try living with UN-"attractive" "gay" people!

    I think I would like you very much (perhaps too much, according to your lights!)

    This whole thing about the world not being a safe or appropriate place for celibate people resonates very strongly with me. I am a relatively "closeted" apparently "straight" fellow of a certain age, and I'm not sexually active, and I don't miss being so, but what's extremely annoying is all of the prying, especially by women, into why I'm not "hooked up" with somebody.

    I sometimes feel that I'm not an appropriate role model for ANYBODY, because, although I am fairly much beloved by my students, I feel I can't even be honest with them, as it might be deemed "inappropriate" by employers to answer their well-meaning questions directly. And I also frequently feel that I am betraying whatever "gay" students I might have (and I sometimes DO have them, in my classes), by being overly discrete. (I'm really too old for anybody to think that I'd be interested in some kind of "inappropriate relationship" with my very young students; it's a ridiculous notion, but one that too many "straight" parents might actually credit.

  5. And I also think that you're right--that it IS a "pretty big issue"--and not just for "same-sex-attracted" people, but also for "straight" folk who feel close to God, because, as W.H. Auden said, a long time ago, something valuable has gone missing from society (and I'd say, from the religious life, too), when monasticism was driven out of it.