Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Propositions 8 and 4

(The below is posted at the request of Fr. David Thatcher, an occasional contributor to this blog. - John / Ad Orientem)

Recently, I was asked by a parish member about a couple of very important Propositions in our California election next week. Proposition 8 would re-establish heterosexual marriage — between a man and a woman — as California law; Proposition 4 would require parental notification, as well as a 48 hour waiting period, before a minor girl could obtain an abortion. She knew my position, in particular about Prop. 8, and she disagreed — adding that she also was not for Prop. 4. In response, I wrote the following. I do not attempt to be original in what I say. Rather, I write as an unworthy pastor in the historic Christian tradition and faith.

You ask me if I am interested in polling the faithful in our church, to see how they intend to vote with respect to Propositions 8 and 4 this election in California. Well, voting as a Christian citizen in this land of ours is a matter of conscious before God. I certainly do not see my calling as a priest to impose a particular point of view on these matters. My role is one of moral persuasion. Besides, the question is twofold, at least: there is Christian moral belief on the one hand, but then the law of our country on the other. In addition, while I am interested in what folks think, moral truth is not established (or changed) by taking a vote. If every one in our church parish voted against Prop 8, it would be a source of great grief for me, but it would not change moral truth.

First, taking a position for Proposition 8 is not an act of intolerance, or hate. If marriage is, by nature and meaning, essentially heterosexual, then any law seeking to re-define it is simply mistaken, and needs correction. I certainly disagree with your opinion on both counts, and believe that you are incorrect in your assessment. I have put down my response, worrying that you could, in the end, be offended. Please know that my goal is to speak the truth in love.

I believe that the concept of "civil rights" is confused in our day. Rights do not come from the State; our founding documents and language of inalienable rights are clear in this respect. Rights, as such, are rooted in the structure of nature and creation, believe it or not. Does that not frame the matter differently? If rights are an expression of nature, according to the intent and design of the Creator, and homosexuality is not the way that people are meant to be, viz a viz creation, then the State granting a "right" of marriage is something not at all rooted in reality, is it? After all, every cell of every part of our body has our sexuality imprinted in it, as male or female. Chromosomes! They are XX or XY, female or male (respectively), right? Our affections may get confused, but our nature is not. I suppose there are genetic mutations, but that is another matter.

Another red herring in all this is the framing of rights in terms of some amorphous vision of the evolution, or so-called "progress," of the human spirit. C. S. Lewis refers to this in its different forms: "scientism" (as opposed to science) or "evolutionism" (as opposed to evolution). These "-isms" take a fundamental form of human thought or life which is legitimate in and of itself, like science or evolution, and turns it into a paradigm of interpretation only dimly related to the original activity itself. This many, like Huxley or contemporary "faux" philosophers, see some sort of "onwards and upwards" concept of human "progress" and applies it inappropriately to all sorts of things. Behind it is often lurking an ideology, a kind of utopianism or vision of society, such as is the case with Marxism.

I believe that such concepts of human progress have been applied, inappropriately, to civil rights and freedoms. The thinking, which should seem familiar, goes like this: first is was liberation of the African American from slavery, then came the rights of women through suffrage and then, later, women's liberation; today it is all about the rights of our gay friends. A kind of grid or timeline is erected to frame the issue at kind, in this case an apparent human right. With such thinking, the issue — and now I am talking about same sex marriage, not toleration or the human rights of homosexuals — is not decided so much on the merits of the arguments. Rather, all depends on this model of movement and progress. Are you not on board with same sex marriage? Well, then! You are contrary to this great movement of the human spirit — a sort of political and moral throwback to medieval times, or the like!

This is all nonsense, and I can demonstrate that. If the "right" to marriage is indeed on the table, then what about my right to merry, say, my mother, or perhaps my daughter? I might say, if you object, that we love each other! How dare you interfere with my right to love somebody as I see fit! Or, perhaps I want to marry my pet dog? If you think that is an outrageous reductio ad absurdum, so be it — but beware! One of the leading philosophers today is Peter Singer, at Princeton University, who decries our anthropocentric worldview as "speciesism" and so advocates all sort of animal-stuff as "rights."

This illustrates an important principle, or corollary, if you will: cultural fads and utopian fancies are not the stuff of good law. The legal fabric of our society is not an appropriate forum for such social experimentation. As one Christian pastor once put it: "Marry the spirit of the age today, and you will be a widower in the next." This is one reason why, up until very recently, our nation's courts have been the most stable and conservative force in our government.

Marriage is a societal recognition of the fundamental reality of a man and woman, who then establish a family through procreation. It is rooted in creation, a reality given to us by our Creator. This is not contrary to our nation's concept of liberty and rights. It is the legal recognition of the fundamental equality of all human beings as a law of nature that is the sure foundation for rights.

To consider the so-called right to marriage as rooted in anything other than this is simply to pretend. We can play house with whomever, and I can cross my legal-ethical fingers behind my back and call it marriage, but it isn't. And if we do "baptize," as a culture and nation, homosexual marriage, then the norming of our social scientists/educators begins.

My dear, forgive me, but you're smarter than all this. The argument for same sex marriage is intellectually puerile, in my opinion. Advocacy against Prop 4 is the same, or worse. Good heavens! Do you know any 13 year old girls? If it is true that psychologists have established, now, that the developing human brain's moral reasoning and judgement is not even complete until age 25 (the true end of adolescence, apparently), then how in the world can you grant the power of life and death of an unborn child to someone completely unequipped, at this point in life, to make that decision. Perhaps we should hand out AK-47s to early adolescent boys, as well, because they are afraid of school bullies.

One cannot do ethics or morality from the extreme exception, as you apparently suggest. This is the old error of "situation ethics," popularized in the '70s by Joseph Fletcher. Ethical and moral norms are just that: normal. Rather than completely divorce a pregnant child from her parents by establishing such a hideous law as secret abortions (i.e. murder, if one gives any moral authority to the the teachings of the saints through the ages), we have laws protecting young pregnant girls who are afraid. There is just no excuse that I can see for being against Prop 4, unless you throw out the precepts and understandings of human rights informed by the great tradition of Christian humanism.

You cannot be unaware that Christianity itself tamed the most violent empire in human history by, in a few hundred years, overthrowing both human slavery and the death penalty. I speak of the Roman Empire. Later, it was Christian abolitionists that overthrew the unholy and untenable union of a semi-Christian culture in the American South with ethnic slavery. Christianity established hospitals. Rather, would you embrace a post-modern ethic based upon the autonomous reason and morality, without root and disembodied? The result is, in my opinion, moral anarchy. In the end, it is anything but humanizing, because in the end it isn't classic concepts of moral truth that are king, but demagoguery and fad. The ones with the most power will decide. They will re-define human nature, and play with the very stuff of life and human culture. It is happening. We should see this.

I do not like politics, and I do not like being an advocate of something that many mistakenly believe, mistakenly is just mean. They are deluded, and I cannot define my advocacy by such.

Begging forgiveness and hoping the dialogue will continue,
Rev. David Thatcher
Orthodox Christian Priest and Pastor
Merced, CA


Anonymous said...

Thank you Father for moral clarity.

Matt said...

From talking with young (18, 19 year old) Orthodox Christians who are voting No on 8, it is clear that they have absorbed the wrong ideas about rights, the source of dogma, and have never read Romans.

Fr., I hope you talk about these things from the ambo. I am afraid many orthodox youth are being pulled away into error.

Jim Moldovan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
John (Ad Orientem) said...

Please read the guidelines for posting that are linked in the sidebar near the top. I am OK with disagreement, even vigorous disagreement. But direct attacks on someone's character that amounts to gossip or worse is a no no.

Under the mercy,