Archbishop Salvatore the Lion Hearted out in Sodom-by-the-Sea insisted recently that those who teach in Catholic (non-public, religious, if you don’t want to attend you don’t have to) schools swear to uphold Catholic doctrine, in much the same way, for instance, Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) insists its employees support gay gmarriage.
Now you wouldn’t expect swarms of GLAAD office workers to hold candlelight vigils protesting that organization’s updating its HR manuals, but somehow that’s exactly what happened when Bishop Cordileone updated his. Publicity ensued.
And this caused academic philosopher Gary Gutting (Notre Dame, a once proudly Catholic school that does not insist its employees uphold Catholic doctrine) to put fingers to keyboard and submit to the New York Times “Unraveling the Church Ban on Gay Sex”.
Gutting correctly notes the Church say homosexual acts are sinful because those acts are contrary to natural law. He also rightly states:
Unlike many religions, Catholicism insists that its moral teachings are based not just on faith but also on human reason. For example, the church claims that its moral condemnation of homosexual acts can be established by rigorous philosophical argument, independent of anything in the Bible.
But then Gutting veers left (ellipsis original):
The problem is that, rightly developed, natural-law thinking seems to support rather than reject the morality of homosexual behavior. Consider this line of thought from John Corvino, a philosopher at Wayne State University: “A gay relationship, like a straight relationship, can be a significant avenue of meaning, growth, and fulfillment. It can realize a variety of genuine human goods; it can bear good fruit…[For both straight and gay couples,] sex is a powerful and unique way of building, celebrating, and replenishing intimacy.” The sort of relationship Corvino describes seems clearly one that would contribute to a couple’s fulfillment as human beings — whether the sex involved is hetero- or homosexual. Isn’t this just what it should mean to live in accord with human nature?
The answer to his last semi-rhetorical question is no. Why? Consider this line of thought from Yours Truly. A human-animal relationship, like a human male-female relationship, can be a significant avenue of meaning, growth, and fulfillment. It can realize a variety of genuine human and animal goods; it can bear good fruit, but it cannot bear human or animal children. For both human and human-animal couples, sex is a powerful and unique way of building, celebrating, and replenishing intimacy. (And must I always remind readers that bestiality is legal in several places?)
Swap in animals or human infants or even inanimate objects and you reach the same conclusion. Corvino’s is not a viable line of argument; and it evades the question of what natural law means. Gutting knows this and has a go at representing it: “any sexual act that could not in principle result in pregnancy is contrary to the laws of human nature because it means that each partner is using it as a means to his or her pleasure.” I suppose he couldn’t help gilding that sentence with that pleasure nonsense, as if a man and a woman having sexual intercourse (which might lead to pregnancy) don’t and aren’t trying to enjoy themselves. Gutting, like many, gives the false and scurrilous impression that the Catholic Church doesn’t want its members to make merry. (The puritans weren’t Catholic.)
The awkward talk of “an act that could not in principle result in pregnancy” is necessary since those who put forward this argument want to maintain that heterosexual unions in which one (or both) of the partners is sterile are still moral. There’s nothing unnatural about their intercourse because it’s the sort of act that in general can lead to reproduction.
And this is true. But sex with a goat or a newborn baby or with your couch or with yourself cannot “in general” or cannot at all lead to reproduction. These are also against natural law: natural law thus tells us why these acts are wrong. Why is it critics of natural law always come at the fine points and forget the big ones? Gutting says there are “numerous subtle distinctions employed to defend [natural law], requiring equal subtlety to respond.” I don’t know if you can call the points I just made subtle, but I doubt it.
Gutting later steers off into waters non sequiturial, saying natural law makes sense “to those who see homosexuals as dominated by an obsessive desire for pleasure, to which they subordinate any notion of fidelity or integrity.” No, sir. A blatant, insulting distraction; an unbecoming debating tactic.
More: “The courageous uncloseting of many homosexuals has revealed them as people like most everyone else, searching for and sometimes achieving a fulfilling human life through rich and complex relationships.” Ad misericordiam. It would be a greater pity to acquiesce in acts which are of great harm to those who engage in them and to others indirectly.
And with that Gutting thinks he’s made his case, for he says, “the time is overdue for a revision of its philosophical misunderstanding of homosexual acts.” But what about those inconvenient Biblical passages condemning homosexual acts? He says we ought to “reject the view that this is what the Bible says…even if the biblical view is that any homosexual act is immoral”. Why? Because slavery. Views on Biblical support for slavery have changed, thus so should views on sodomy. Gutting appears unaware that slavery is equivocal and didn’t mean to people two centuries ago what it means to us. Anyway, it’s the wrong argument because the Bible merely flies well over that topic while it outright forbids homosexual acts.
Solution? Gutting implies Cordileone should lie. That the Bishop should say he’s for the Church while not enforcing its dogma. There it is again. For Gutting, the ends justify the means. What a frightening thing for a philosopher to say.
Update Kiddies in SF follow Gutting’s lead. “San Francisco Catholic Students Slam Morality Clauses In Latest Protest, Say Archbishop Is Out Of Step” and more proof that people have forgotten why they’re in the Church in the first place.
“It’s just ridiculous how he’s trying to represent the Catholic Church in a city of tolerance and a city of acceptance,” Archbishop Riordan alumnus Erick Orantes told KPIX 5.