June 25, 2008
The Darkened Intellect Serves the Fallen Will
Somebody (I’ll say Chesterton, just to start another meme falsely attributing great quotes to him) once remarked that "the man who declares ‘The modern intellect can no longer accept the primitive doctrines of the Resurrection of the Dead, Transubstantiation, and a Trinitarian Godhead’ typically means ‘I’m sleeping with my neighbor’s wife.’"
These days, that also holds true even when the man means "I’m sleeping with my neighbor’s husband." Case in point, a letter I received:
I’ve been carrying a dialogue with an old high school friend who is gay. I began my position explaining fundamental tenets of the Theology of the Body, which proved moot after he revealed he does not believe in God. He believes humans are strictly animals, without souls, whose only distinguishing feature is our advanced intellect and ability to reason abstractly.
Furthermore, he believes love developed as a social survival mechanism, born of some instinctive drive to perpetuate the species. While you would think this would render homosexuality obsolete, he defended all forms of "love," saying all human couples benefit society through their fidelity. For him, "love" is just a vague social manifestation that benefits the human animal, whether on an individual or public scale. He sees nothing spiritual or supernatural in its nature.
How can I counter this argument? Every valid insight I raise is countered with "that’s just the way we evolved." He admits there is something unique about human reason, but simply attributes this to the highly complex and advanced nature of our evolutionary development. Is there any concept that can hold up against this blanket response?
I highly doubt I’m going to be much help here, in no small part because my reader’s conversation is really taking place at two levels. The first is the abstract and intellectual level, in which everything her friend is saying is ex post facto rubbish whose entire function is to defend choices made on other grounds. In short, I’m highly un-persuaded that the most mathematically precise Thomistic discussion of philosophy or the faith would move her friend an inch, because the guy did not reason his way from profound faith to atheism by a dispassionate consideration of philosophy and theology. He’s an atheist because it’s the easiest thing to be in his circumstances, and that’s that. He’s made his choice, and the theology follows the will, not his will the theology.
I don’t mean "he chose be same-sex-attracted," since I’m highly skeptical that this involves anything that is very subject to volition. But there is a choice involved in acting on the orientation, just as there are choices involved in acting on any other disordered appetite. How to respond to those disordered appetites is, I reckon, best modeled for us by those who have done it. And I am no model there, because I have never wrestled with homosexual desires. Far better, in such a case, to talk with somebody like Eve Tushnet or David Morrison, who have lived out the gospel counsels joyfully and authentically.
That said, I can imagine having a discussion about the theories of love my reader mentions — not so much with her friend as for the benefit of a third party, who might be sitting on the fence, watching the conversation, tipsy on the zeitgeist, and tempted to believe the rubbish he is hearing from the gay atheist. So, for instance, if I were in cyberspace chatting with my reader’s friend, I would continue the conversation, not so much for his sake as for the sake of an onlooker.
My reason for this is simple. I’m not the Holy Spirit. I can’t change hearts. Confronted with somebody who is bound and determined to sin, the counsel of our Lord is shocking but sensible: "Do not cast pearls before swine." Somebody whose theology is entirely at the mercy of their willed indulgence of appetite is somebody who is highly unlikely to listen to a word that threatens that indulgence.
At the intellectual level, you can make a number of statements that, while obviously true and obviously pointing to gaping holes in the gay atheist’s rhetoric, will probably do very little to change the fellow’s mind, because his rhetoric is designed, not as a sound argument, but as a fig leaf for his choice. As long as what he says provides a certain sort of psychological justification myth for homosexual practice, that will be enough to satisfy him, even if it doesn’t persuade anybody with unclouded intellectual faculties. In short, so long as sin darkens the intellect, he won’t be terribly interested in examining the fairly obvious flaws in his argument.
But somebody who has merely been mau-maued by the media is not necessarily in the same position as the guy advancing the argument. Somebody who has simply been fed agitprop about (in this case) the glories of homosexuality as the source and summit of all that is noble, pure, and good — and who vaguely senses that the arguments don’t hold water all that well — may respond to a discussion of the flaws in the argument. It is for them that I would point out several things.
The first obvious flaw in the "homosexuality is a happy product of evolution" argument is that evolution is all about (and only about) selecting for traits that make it likely for the species to survive. It’s fairly obvious to unclouded faculties that homosexuals are acing themselves out in the Darwinian struggle for survival, since they are not in the deep end of the pool of those mostly likely to pass on their chromosomes. That doesn’t mean that homosexual orientation might not have "natural" causes, just as other disorders do. Nor does it mean that some sort of Just So story can’t be concocted to overlook that glaring fact ("Same-sex attracted individuals could have made excellent, er, nannies in pre-history, thus guaranteeing a higher species survival rate, blah blah, etc."). Nevertheless, a fact it remains: As a Darwinian advantage, homosexuality is highly unconvincing.
The second obvious flaw in the argument is this: Prove it. The reality is, we don’t know what causes homosexual orientation. There are lots of guesses and few hard facts. My reader’s friend has adopted an atheistic worldview, which leans him toward purely materialist explanations. But, of course, if we are all as into mere assertions as he is, we can just as easily baselessly assert that the cause of the atheistic worldview is that he is avoiding God and the rather obvious problems the gospel raises for those who wish to indulge their homosexual urges. It accounts for the few facts at least as easily as his own baseless assertion, and it doesn’t have the gross disadvantage of being prima facie counter-Darwinian.
Third, it is again rubbish to say that "all human couples benefit society through their fidelity." First, of course, the notion that human sexual groupings will automatically remain in the form of "couples" apart from the Christian tradition is a piece of provincialism that makes anybody who has a passing familiarity with life beyond Ozzie and Harriet laugh. Once you make mutual consent your sole criterion for licit sexual unions, the warm-and-fuzzy notion that "All You Need is Wuv" will shout down a lot more immemorial social "taboos" (oh that useful word for destroying sexual common sense!) than simply the prohibition on gay marriage. Every other taboo — against trailer park unions between father and daughter, brother and sister, and various North American Man Boy Love Association couplings, against the person who really loves his or her dog or car — must go as well.
Every one of these unions (and other unions not named here) can be and have been marked by "fidelity" (i.e., mutual consent). The union of teacher Mary Kay LeTourneau and her sixth-grade paramour was marked by fidelity. So were the polygamies of the FLDS. So were the German brother and sister who married and had four kids. But it is barking mad (or will be till that "taboo" is swept away along with all the others in the insane rush to justify all sexual unions whatsoever on the sole basis of "mutual consent") to call such relationships "healthy" or "good for society." Here is the actual outcome you will get from the complete laissez faire approach to the family. Libertarianism here, as in so many other places, is a philosophy for people who are utterly uninterested in children.
Bottom line: All attempts to account for the human person on a purely materialist basis are, in the end, inadequate — for those who are not operating out of a clouded intellect bent entirely on justifying whatever their chosen sin might happen to be. At the same time, merely intellectual arguments against whatever self-justifying rubbish is being spouted will almost never dispel the false argument in the mind of the person making it. Because the problem ultimately lies not in the intellect but in the will. For that, Scripture recommends fervent prayer to the Holy Spirit, who alone can change the heart.
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