iSoul In the beginning is reality

Tag Archives: Morality

Sanctity of life

This week marks the 43rd anniversary of the infamous Roe v. Wade decision of the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing abortion on demand. The annual march supporting the right to life will take place in Washington, DC. No doubt some political gestures will be made by supporting politicians.

I certainly support the right to life but I have never been able to get involved with the pro-life movement. I think the reason goes back to its origins. Recall that the Catholic Church stood almost alone in publicly opposing abortion on demand in 1973. Very few Protestant churches stood up for life at that time (the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod was an exception). Francis Schaeffer spent several years trying to convince evangelical churches that this was an important issue.

My point here is that the pro-life movement adopted a vigil attitude concerning the victims of abortion and an opposition mindset concerning the politics of abortion. Hence they made the Supreme Court decision the focus of their national march and commemoration.

What’s wrong with this is that the focus is wrong, both spiritually and politically. Support for life should be grounded in God and natural rights, not in opposition to something. A Sanctity of Life Sunday should commemorate life, not death and defeat. Churches and religious organizations should be able to support a movement that affirms moral truth, without getting implicated in direct political action, which may divide their members and alienate others.

For example, the seasonal return to life in Spring would be a reason to select a day then for the affirmation of life (look at what environmentalists have done with Earth Day). This would put the focus on life, not on the politics of abortion. It could be an international celebration of life, which would remove all hint that this is merely a U.S. political movement, a mixing of religion and politics. It is a moral issue of the first rank. That should be the message.

In the U.S. the focus of political activities should be on the legislative branch, not the Court. This has slowly been learnt at the state level. Congress has sufficient power to reign in the Court, to define the beginning of life for legal purposes, and to pass restrictions in funding for abortion. If there are political victories, celebrate that, not political defeat.

Alcoholism and homosexuality

Some people are born with alcoholism, that is, they are inclined toward alcohol dependence. Others acquire it over time or a combination of both is the cause. Alcoholism is a disease, also called alcohol dependence syndrome. It can cause people to behave in unhealthy ways such as engaging in risky behavior. Whether alcoholism can be cured or only controlled is controversial. In any case alcoholics deserve our compassion.

Something very similar can be said about homosexuality, the desire and practice of sexual relations between members of the same sex. Some people are apparently born with such desire whereas others seem to acquire it. Homosexuality can cause people to behave in unhealthy ways such as engaging in risky behavior. Whether homosexuality can be changed or controlled is controversial. In any case homosexuals deserve our compassion.

Whereas alcoholism is classed as a disease, it has become controversial to categorize homosexuality as a disease, much less a sin. Those who promote extreme egalitarianism disparage any significant social distinction between the sexes or any ontological difference between the sexes. And yet many homosexuals today are proud of their condition, as if sexuality were a significant characteristic of one’s ontology.

We can’t have it both ways: either human sexuality is ontologically significant or is not. If it is not, then there is no need for approving of it or according it special status. If it is, then we need to ask what is the ontological status of sexuality.

The place to start is with language. Every human language has different references for male and female: he/she, him/her, his/hers, etc. This shows the deep-seated character of sexuality: our very personhood is bound up with our maleness or femaleness. No one is suggesting that we call people “it” so this gendered speech will continue.

Sex is ontologically significant and the roles for men and women that societies develop are something to defend rather than tear down. Changes, if any, should be incremental and carefully considered. Unfortunately, the global West is rushing headlong into a social experiment in sexual equality without due consideration of the consequences.

The legal fiction of same-sex marriage

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has invented a right to marriage that extends (so far) to any two non-married adults, many articles have been written criticizing the Court. Some have called same-sex marriage a legal fiction, apparently using that as a simple pejorative rather than a legal term. I’m not a lawyer but I think legal fiction is an accurate term to use.

It is well-known that corporations can be treated as persons by the law; this is a legal fiction that ensures that groups of people are treated similarly to individuals. It is fiction because a corporation is not literally a person and so should be treated as a person only in limited ways. That applies to same-sex marriage, too.

Same-sex marriage is not literally marriage. No law or interpretation of law can change the reality of marriage, which is only for opposite sexes. But laws or interpretations of law can create legal fictions in which something that is not literally true is treated as if it were true in limited ways. That is what the Court has done.

The question now is what are the ways that same-sex marriage is like real marriage and what are the ways it is not. Unfortunately the Court did not specify this or even acknowledge the issue. They left that for the future.

This ensures a turbulent time for the U.S. while those who want to maximize the treatment of same-sex marriage as real marriage will battle with those who want to minimize it. The dissenting justices were right to point out how this could have been avoided by letting the democratic process deal with the whole matter.

But the Court short-circuited the democratic process and inserted their judgment for the judgment of the people. That is a defeat for democracy. And it undermines respect for the judicial branch of government.

Morality and same-sex civil marriage

Same-sex civil marriage has become legal in various jurisdictions and states. What should those do who do not recognize the moral validity of these marriages? This has become an issue for people personally and in business.

Consider the latter first. There have been cases of a photographer and a baker: what should they do if customers ask for a cake or photographic services for a same-sex wedding? This is not a case about the customers themselves but about the use or customization of a product or service.

In general what a customer does with a product or service is their business, as long as a criminal enterprise isn’t involved. Other objectionable uses are possible, too. Custom T-shirt providers should be free to reject objectionable messages. But a baker should not object to making a standard wedding cake for a customer who uses it as they desire.

Wedding cakes often carry ornaments on top depicting a bride and groom. What if the customer requests an ornament with two grooms or two brides? If the bakery does not have such ornaments, they simply say so. It’s not a product they sell.

Services such as photography are customized to some extent so how they are advertised makes a difference. Until now, advertising “wedding photography” was pretty well understood. The term covers marriage ceremonies in general. If there are particular aspects of an ethnic or religious wedding that the photographer is unfamiliar with, then either the customer hires a different photographer or negotiates their specific requirements.

Photographers who don’t want to photograph same-sex weddings should imply that in their advertising. “Traditional wedding photography” would tell customers what services the photographer offers. Customers should not expect other services. It’s possible the courts won’t accept that, but it remains to be seen how else they will set the boundaries of what can and can’t be done.

An example of a personal issue would be an invitation to a same-sex wedding ceremony from a relative. There may not be one answer for everyone. On the one hand, God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” [Mt 5:45] On the other hand: “Bad company ruins good morals.” [1 Cor 15:33] “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” [Eph 5:11]

The best policy is to have a policy and stick with it. Then people know where you’re coming from and aren’t arbitrarily picking on them. And be able to defend your policy.