Sunday, March 4, 2012

Do words have meaning?

The gloating of liberal Marylanders over Governor O'Malley's epic cave to political pressure regarding gay marriage has forced me to turn the brain back on for some thinking.

A while back I watched a documentary called For the Bible Tells Me So, which questioned whether or not the Bible says anything about committed homosexual relationships. The conclusion was either no or probably not. However, I've since graduated from amateur documentary-level theology to the "I would believe anything this man ever said even though I don't have to" theology of Blessed John Paul II. His seductively beautiful Theology of the Body paints the picture of the human family with father, mother and child as the image of the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Spirit. Essentially, the love between the Father and the Son and between the father and the mother is so intense that it is procreative and personified by the Spirit and the child respectively.

Thus Christian theology insists that the link between human sexuality and fertility should not be severed as it has been by the use of birth control and by homosexual relationships. From the image of the Trinity comes the definition of the Sacrament of Marriage. So it should be obvious why a Catholic would say that the proposed gay marriage is a radical redefinition of marriage in that it no longer has anything to do with procreation. I know! Such intolerant bigotry to insist that words have meaning. By the way, when I use the term Catholic here, I mean someone who believes what the Church teaches, rather than those who claim to be devout Catholics and yet apparently don't believe the moral and theological teachings.

Now I know that the push for gay marriage comes from a place of love. But rather than providing a means of acknowledging a loving relationship between adults, which by itself doesn't constitute marriage, the goal of gay marriage is to legitimize gay relationships. Often when women feel that we are being denied the respect we deserve in a male-dominated environment, we strive to be one of the guys. But we soon face the consequences of jamming ourselves into a male mold rather than insisting our femininity be recognized and respected. Today, it seems we feel that jamming gay people into the straight person mold will somehow make homosexuality more palatable. On the one hand, same sex couples are being told to embrace their homosexuality, while on the other hand they are being told that they need to be more like heterosexual couples in order for their union to be acceptable. Unfortunately, there will be sad consequences because such an approach does not respect the dignity of same sex attracted persons and further degrades the integrity of the family. As someone who was raised by my mother and grandmother, I can tell you that two moms will never make a dad.

If marriage is to be founded solely on feelings of love between two individuals and, in particular, on sexual love, then limiting the redefinition of marriage to gays is a great hypocrisy. If gay marriage is okay then why not polygamy? And why can't I marry my brother like the monarchs used to? When incest exists between two consenting adults should it be contractualized through marriage? I cannot think of a reason for supporting gay marriage that would not also apply to a happy, incestuous couple. And, based on the current logic, if anyone thinks that brother and sister shouldn't be married then he or she is apparently an intolerant bigot, because it's their civil right! Might Cardinal O'Brien be right in saying that we experience "intolerance behind the mask of tolerance"?

The redefinition of marriage strips the word of any definitive meaning. Maybe we feel that it's okay to redefine marriage because we no longer feel that heterosexual marriage has meaning. Maybe we feel that it's just an optional civil contract between two cohabiting adults. In which case, shouldn't we reclaim the true definition of marriage rather than continue the process of rendering it meaningless?


  1. The problem, Jones, is that politics/law and religion are far too entwined in this country(/world). Marriage means two things in two different realms these days: the legal part that lets you file taxes together, changes inheritance rights, etc., and the religious/sociological part that takes place in a church/chapel/local tavern.

    Why does redefining marriage necessarily lead towards meaninglessness? Marriage as a concept did not originate with Catholicism, Christianity, or any known religion, and it is, indeed, an optional agreement between two adults. Language is not a fixed thing--American society has historically recognized 'marriage' in law as between a man and a woman, but if society chooses to redefine this, that has no effect on what is allowable in your church and/or community.

    What matters is equality, and gay people seem to have decided that equality for them means that they be able to form these contracts, under law, and under the word 'marriage'. Perhaps it would have been easier if the demand were that all such contracts under law be redefined to be called 'civil unions'. Then gay or straight couples would get their civil union license from the town hall, and go get married at their church/whatever. Or perhaps that's just a straw man, and religious people would be just as adamant about keeping 'their word' codified in law as they are now about keeping 'their definition' codified for 'their word'.

    Either way, in a just society, the privileged are not the ones who get to decide what 'equality' means in a case like this.

    What's need is acceptance that Catholics did not 'invent' marriage, and that anything the law says about the word/contract does not affect how the church deals with it/approves of it for its members.

    1. Ah okay, here we go. *deep breath* I actually don't think that incest and polygamy should be illegal. But hear me out on this one. I believe that any person, or rather adult, should be able to live his/her lifestyle as he/she wishes, provided it does not directly harm another person. I stand by that philosophy even when it applies to things that make me feel uncomfortable (incest) or a little grossed out. That's what you might call my 'absolute moral code'.

      An aside about polygamy and incest: these are practices that have been demonized and legislated against in modern times, but have been a part of functional society for much longer than they've been outlawed. Many, many (many!!) people in today's society, in this very country, lead polygam-ish lives. Married partners with other intimate relationships interwoven in their lives - most are very stable situations and you'd never know unless these individuals trusted you enough to tell you. No harm is being done by any persons involved. And similarly, many people have had incestuous relationships with sisters, brothers, cousins, step-siblings, etc. You bring up the argument of genetic problems. But incest has been a part of human life for thousands of years, and no grave genetic disturbances have taken place (with the exception perhaps of royalty procreating over and over within the same gene pool). One set of cousins having a child is not the same as a mandate to only bear children with a member of the royal family. The genetic disturbances caused by heroin addicts on welfare having kids are far more devastating. So should we revoke the rights for heroin addicts to marry? Or what about really really stupid people? Would not they too have negative genetic effects if they decide to bear children?

      I am getting a little fired up, I realize. And I apologize if my tone comes out angry using just text. I don't mean it to be. I just get frustrated by society looking at everything through a narrow context based only on their own lives. People are different, they have different needs, have different goals in life, and varied interpretations of what feels right and wrong to them. Maybe I could expand on absolute moral codes and how wrong that concept is to me, but for now I'll leave it at this.

    2. Hahaha you're right, I don't think it should be illegal for heroine addicts or stupid people or genetically 'inferior' people to have children. I guess I just meant that if gay marriage is legal there should be no reason for polygamy and incest to be illegal, so we agree! And no! rather than angry ranting, I think yours is the best argument! :o) And highlights an important question: are morals relative or is there an objective moral truth? So yeah.... I shouldn't talked about moral codes, because there is either a moral truth to be found or there isn't, so there can't be more than one!

      I totally agree that if there is not some objective moral truth then anything that isn't 'hurting' anyone should be legal/allowed. Although I do think a lack of objective truth means there can be no definitive morals. So it seems to me that nobody would have an inalienable right to anything. We simply hope that the masses and those in power choose to give us what we feel are our basic rights, although they have no moral obligation to do so. But assuming that we are all kindhearted secular humanists and want whatever is 'best' for the majority (perhaps because this seems 'best' for each of us individually?), I'm reminded of two more examples of consensual acts that should be acceptable under moral relativism.

      There is a prisoner who publishes a newsletter about how pedophilia is his right. He is sexually attracted to young teenage men and younger boys and has found some who supposedly genuinely desire to have a sexual relationship with him. So it would seem to be consensual and not hurting anybody. Under moral relativism this should be allowed. And pedophilia is definitely something that was practiced by many cultures throughout human history.

      Another example is a person who likes the taste of human flesh and makes agreements with dying people or the family members of deceased persons (perhaps money is exchanged) to eat the dead bodies. Under moral relativism, this is a perfectly acceptable thing to do.

      And I have respect for the moral relativist who insists that, yes, such behaviors should be permissible, especially in the privacy of one's own home. I see the intellectual consistency there. I personally don't think that most Americans are disgusted by the above two behaviors simply for cultural reasons. I think we know that having sex with children, eating human flesh, and desecrating corpses are evil things to do because that's an objective truth. But I like your answer, and I hope I didn't misrepresent what you're saying.

      Also I love you and I miss you!!!!

    3. Micah! Thanks for responding. I deleted and reposted my original comment cause there might have been misinformation in my reply and I couldn't figure out how to edit it. So now these replies are out of order.

      I do think you're right that we have developed these two concepts of marriage--the sacramental kind and the secular contract. And having a separate thing called civil union would solve part of the problem! But after the Health and Human Services mandate I wonder if the government might consider requiring churches to provide a marriage ceremony for anyone who qualifies for civil marriage or civil union. Otherwise, civil union would provide some nice separation of church and state. [I'm going to post about the HHS mandate at some point and maybe you will comment--this is nice, disagreeing without using mean names!]

      On the other hand, you're also right that it's a sort of straw man that doesn't work to bridge the gap between these two definitions of marriage. On our side we believe marriage is sacramental, hence the mission to protect the sanctity of marriage! Whereas on the secular side marriage is another one of the services (wrong word...) provided by the government that anyone should have access to. The Church would say that the institution of civil union still weakens the sanctity of marriage and would fight it. Kind of like when the communists in Poland cleverly decided to throw a government sponsored 'coming of age' party for any teenager who was not planning on receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation. It might have looked harmless but the intent was not. (But I'm not trying to say anyone has malicious intent here.)

      Also, I wonder if you can come up with a reason to legalize gay marriage that is not also a reason for legalizing polygamy and incest? I was thinking that an argument against incest is the genetic problems it creates, but then there would be nothing forcing the couple to reproduce, in fact they could actually be an incestuous gay couple. I don't see how a moral code can exist if things like 'equality' and basic human rights are defined by the person who feels like he/she is being denied them. Isn't it dangerous to have no absolute moral code and definition of equality?

  2. What? Have there really been attempts to force churches to provide marriages to gay couples? Are there gay couples who read the definition of a sacramental marriage (specifically, the procreative part), and think to themselves, yes we want that...?
    Or is the point that they are trying to change the church definition of marriage to match the secular definition? But if they want a marriage of the secular definition variety, why try to go through the church?

    1. Actually after reading some news articles I think a lot of the turmoil may be within the Canadian and English Churches themselves. Some Anglican and other Protestant Churches are debating whether or not to allow civil ceremonies for same sex couples in their churches. I'm not sure about redefining the Sacrament.... I wouldn't think so! It's not clear to me that it's government provoked though, so maybe I accidentally lied to Micah.

  3. I was going to say something about an absolute moral code, but it sounds like it's been covered. The only way I think it could be achieved is through collective agreement, as in, every individual must agree to uphold it. Sarah, what do you think? Is an absolute moral code actually achievable?

  4. I shouldn't have phrased it like that. I didn't mean moral code like something we human beings define and all agree on. I mean an objective truth. Like Christians say God is Truth. And God is Love. These are perfect ideals that human beings strive for. Our love is always imperfect, but we strive for perfect love. The ideal is there and it's what we're shooting for. So if there's an objective moral truth then there are some things that are inherently evil. Like most people would agree that murder is inherently evil. And a Christian would say that the truth that murder is evil remains even if all of us human beings decide that we don't believe that anymore and we think murder is ok--like when the Israelites started sacrificing their babies as burnt offerings to the pagan god Baal. So while we human beings might disagree about the exact details of the moral truth, like in the instance of homosexual relationships, we acknowledge that a truth does exist. Hm... I hope that makes more sense!

  5. After a quick Google search, it seems that while no government has yet to demand all churches recognize all marriages (same-sex included), there is indeed debate about it. I also uncovered this gem of a headline: "Catholic leader calls government's gay marriage plans 'madness'" - Madness? ... This. Is. SPARTA! hahaha. Anyway. I think it is an appalling idea to force churches to perform or even recognize all marriages. If the Unitarians want to have marriage ceremonies for gay couples, that's fine. And Catholic churches should be allowed to NOT perform those marriages. I also think it's possible that two different entities could read and interpret the marriage Sacrament differently... I mean what about the condition that both people are Catholic? But the church still recognizes marriages between Catholics and non-Catholics, right? I barely know what I'm talking about, though, since I have very little understanding of Catholicism.

    But my point is this: Governments should recognize all unions (marriages) between consenting parties and give them equal rights under the law. But it doesn't need to go the other way - all churches should not be required to recognize all unions. A gay couple can proclaim, "Yay, we're married." And a Catholic can walk up and say, "But you're not Catholic married." And everyone walks away and all is right with the world. At least in my mind.