I was listening to the radio show Catholic Answers the other day, and the host Patrick Coffin made the following comment:
“The saying, I believe attributed to Oscar Wilde, ‘The love that dare not speak it’s name.’ is now something that can’t really stop talking about itself. The tsunami of organizations and individuals and websites that are founded to normalize homosexual behavior in a way that even ten years ago would not be imaginable; you can’t think or say things publicly and be considered part of respectable society unless you endorse the proposition that same sex behavior is anything less than fantastic.”
Now regardless of which side of the issue you are on – objectively Patrick is right. There has been a marked difference in our society’s views on the homosexual lifestyle, accompanied by a media coverage of all things gay that has literally saturated every imaginable aspect of our society. It’s got me thinking.
The quote that I posted at the top of this blog is from Lynn Lavner who is an American comedian and musician from Brooklyn, New York. Much of her material is based around the facts that she is Jewish and a lesbian. Reading her quote I was immediately struck by three things:
1. That’s pretty funny.
2. The number of times that she says the Bible “admonishes” various issues is incorrect.
3. Her premise is right on.
See, here’s the thing, the admonishments in Scripture are addressed to all of us. It’s not that Scripture is sometimes admonishing straight people and sometimes admonishing gay people, because our sexuality is not fundamentally who we are. Gore Vidal says it this way:
“Actually, there is no such thing as a homosexual person, any more than there is such a thing as a heterosexual person. The words are adjectives describing sexual acts, not people.”
But, the point that Lynn makes is essentially a valid one, namely that Scripture is concerned with far more than just issues of homosexuality. Believe it or not, Pope Francis would probably agree with her. Last September he had the following to say, “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”
I’ve recently come to the uncomfortable realization that when it comes to our sexuality, it really doesn’t matter a whole lot whether we identify as homosexual or heterosexual. For quite a while I was one of those Christians who although charitable, still felt rather smug when it came to the whole issue of homosexuality. After all, the homosexual lifestyle is clearly wrong both morally and from a natural order perspective, and it’s not an issue I struggle with. While I’m certainly not perfect, I could say that at least when it came to my sexuality I was living as the good Lord intended. Except…I’ve had to rethink that.
In most Christian circles heterosexuals typically feel pretty good about themselves so long as they’ve got their sexual orientation straight (pun intended) and aren’t engaging in any promiscuous behavior – i.e. no fornication or adultery. From this perspective, there can be a tendency to come off as a little condescending and judgmental towards others who clearly don’t have that area of their lives figured out. Namely the sluts and the gays. Of course we wouldn’t call them that to their faces – hate the sin and love the sinner and all that. But on the inside that’s what we’re thinking; all while conveniently forgetting that we too are sinners – even in our sexual lives.
I think that it would be useful at this point to get some clarity on what the sexual act is. Not what sex is – I’m going to assume that everyone knows all about the birds and the bees already – but what it’s for. Here we are speaking of the sexual act itself – not a relationship with another person. And fundamentally, sex is all about the propagation of the species, or more specifically, it is all about the propagation of our genetic material. Richard Dawkins reminds us that,“We are machines built by DNA whose purpose is to make more copies of the same DNA. … This is exactly what we are for. We are machines for propagating DNA, and the propagation of DNA is a self-sustaining process. It is every living object’s sole reason for living.” The human species is not alone in this self-sustaining process that takes place via sexual reproduction, as over 90% of species reproduce sexually, meaning two individuals from each sex must mate in order to produce offspring. What is most striking about this though, is the fact that we don’t really understand why this should be the case scientifically.
Well-known evolutionist Philip Kitcher has noted that, “Despite some ingenious suggestions by orthodox Darwinians, there is no convincing Darwinian history for the emergence of sexual reproduction.” 1 Evolutionists since have freely admitted that the origin of gender and sexual reproduction still remains one of the most difficult problems in biology.2 Graham Bell described the dilemma in the following manner:
“Sex is the queen of problems in evolutionary biology. Perhaps no other natural phenomenon has aroused so much interest; certainly none has sowed as much confusion. The insights of Darwin and Mendel, which have illuminated so many mysteries, have so far failed to shed more than a dim and wavering light on the central mystery of sexuality, emphasizing its obscurity by its very isolation.”3
Basically, science is confused as to why sexual reproduction became the dominant means of reproduction (over 90% of all species) rather than asexual reproduction. As Julie Schecter points out, “Sex is ubiquitous…. Yet sex remains a mystery to researchers, to say nothing of the rest of the population. Why sex? At first blush, its disadvantages seem to outweigh its benefits. After all, a parent that reproduces sexually gives only one-half its genes to its offspring, whereas an organism that reproduces by dividing passes on all its genes. Sex also takes much longer and requires more energy than simple division. Why did a process so blatantly unprofitable to its earliest practitioners become so widespread?”4 Consider the following excerpt from the article Evolutionary Theories on Gender and Sexual Reproduction.
“Why, then, does sex exist? In his 2001 book, Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea, Carl Zimmer admitted, ‘Sex is not only unnecessary, but it ought to be a recipe for evolutionary disaster. For one thing, it is an inefficient way to reproduce…. And sex carries other costs as well…. By all rights, any group of animals that evolves sexual reproduction should be promptly outcompeted by nonsexual ones. And yet sex reigns… Why is sex a success, despite all its disadvantages?’5 From an evolutionary viewpoint, sex definitely is ‘an inefficient way to reproduce.’ Think about all the sexual process entails, including the complexity involved in reproducing the information carried within the DNA. It is the complexity of this process, and the manner in which it is copied from generation to generation, which practically drove Mark Ridley to distraction in The Cooperative Gene. ‘No one in human culture would try the trick of first making two copies of a message, then breaking each into short bits at random, combining equal amounts from the two to form the version to be transmitted, and throwing the unused half away. You only have to think of sex to see how absurd it is. The “sexual” method of reading a book would be to buy two copies, rip the pages out, and make a new copy by combining half the pages from one and half from the other, tossing a coin at each page to decide which original to take the page from and which to throw away.’6 Again, from an evolutionary viewpoint, sex would be considered ‘absurd.’ But from a design viewpoint, it is nothing short of incredible!”
The point is this; from a biological/natural order perspective, sex’s only function is the reproduction of the species. This is true whether or not you believe in a Darwinian model of evolution, Intelligent Design, or any other mechanism which you believe best explains the natural order. Reproduction is the purpose of sex, and yet we don’t really know why. For me, the answer that makes the most sense is that God designed human reproduction to take place via sex in order to join the unitive aspect of sex to the procreative aspect. In other words for the sake of relationship. Because the Trinitarian God is relational, He created humans made in His own image to be relational.
Sex is the relational means of a procreative necessity.
Everyone still with me? This relational aspect of the sexual act is referred to as the unitive aspect. This unitive aspect of the sexual act is often misrepresented, as it is not mere physical union. A handshake or a hug has a mere physical union, but this is not the unitive meaning. Disordered sexual acts, such as homosexual sex, have a certain physical union and even a relational aspect, but they do not have the unitive meaning. Neither is the unitive meaning equivalent to sexual pleasure, or even shared sexual pleasure. None of these represent the proper understanding of the unitive meaning. The unitive meaning is expressed in a specific type of physical union, the sexual union of a man and a woman in natural intercourse. This type of sexual act is in harmony with, and ordered toward, the other object of sex, the procreative object.
These two objective realities of sex (the unitive and procreative), are expressed together in the third aspect of moral/natural sexual relations, namely that of marriage between a man and a woman.7 Effectively, a properly ordered sexual act must conform to a threefold natural and moral objective. The moral/natural object of the sexual act must be marital, unitive and procreative. This truth conforms to the observed natural order of our world, and is also faithful to the Scriptural admonishments regarding not just homosexuality, but also marriage and children.
Again, Scripture’s admonishments are for all of us straight, gay, or otherwise. If we break this down we see the following:
1. From a natural order/biological perspective the only function of sex is a procreative function.
2. Procreation in the human species requires a man and a woman.
3. This male/female relationship is expressed in a uniquely unitive way and is protected (especially for the sake of the woman and children) within the framework of marriage.
The homosexual act is objectively dis-ordered when we look at the natural order. While the homosexual act may be loving and relational, it cannot by definition be either procreative or unitive within a procreative understanding. It is a sexual act which fails to accomplish the very thing that is both objectively and scientifically its purpose.
I want to return to something I said earlier in this post. “…the homosexual lifestyle is clearly wrong both morally and from a natural order perspective, and it’s not an issue I struggle with…In most Christian circles heterosexuals typically feel pretty good about themselves so long as they’ve got their sexual orientation straight and aren’t engaging in any promiscuous behavior – i.e. no fornication or adultery. From this perspective, there can be a tendency to come off as a little condescending and judgmental towards others who clearly don’t have that area of their lives figured out. Except…I’ve had to rethink that.”
Many straight Christians struggle with fornication and adultery – this perverts both the unitive and marital aspects. Many straight Christians (myself included for nearly 20 years) practice contraceptive sex within their marriage or are voluntarily sterilized. This prevents the procreative aspect. Many straight Christians (myself included) have engaged in sexual acts that are primarily selfish and self focused rather than being a self-giving union with the person we’re married to which subverts the unitive aspect. Many straight Christians (myself included at times in the past) have engaged in habitual masturbation which is a sexual act that objectively fails at the marital, unitive, and procreative aspects which sexuality should encompass. The bottom line is, it’s not just homosexuals who struggle with sexual issues and dis-ordered sexual desires. We all do.
Here is what I’ve begun to realize…we are all in this together. Homosexual or Heterosexual, as humans we are all sinners. We are all people created in the image of God, and we are all loved by Him. We all succeed sometimes and fail other times. We all struggle with various aspects of our sexuality, but our sexuality is not fundamentally who we are. Fundamentally we are children of God. Fundamentally we are sisters and brothers. Fundamentally we all need to hold each other accountable to the truth and help each other along the way. Fundamentally we are all sinners who need God’s mercy and grace – and each others.
“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest [or us] to say the right thing.” ~Pope Francis
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Bell, Graham, The Masterpiece of Nature: The Evolution and Genetics of Sexuality, University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, p. 54, 1982. ↩
Maynard-Smith, 1986, p. 35 ↩
Bell, Graham, The Masterpiece of Nature: The Evolution and Genetics of Sexuality, University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, p. 19, 1982. ↩
Schecter, Julie, How Did Sex Come About?, Bioscience, 34:680, December 1984. ↩
Zimmer, Carl, Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea, HarperCollins, New York, pp. 230, 231, 2001. ↩
Ridley, Mark, The Cooperative Gene, The Free Press, New York, pp. 108 – 109, 2001. ↩
Reasons for sex within the confines of marriage, along with a defense of traditional marriage between a man and woman will have to wait for another time 🙂 ↩