Christian Colleges Find LGBT Loophole

What are conservative Christians to do? Since the US Supreme Court has ruled that same-sex marriage must be recognized nationwide, some conservatives have called for retreat, for the “Benedict Option.” Christian colleges, some fret, are in a particularly difficult position, since they could be forced to violate their own religious principles in order to include same-sex couples, transgender students and faculty, and unmarried homosexual students and faculty. Some schools, however, have taken advantage of a loophole in federal law that seems to alleviate some of these fears. This loophole, however, only sidesteps the real problem; it leaves the most important questions unaddressed.

First, a little background: As we noted in the run-up to the Obergefell decision, conservative religious colleges worried that the SCOTUS ruling could force them into an impossible position. It would not be theologically possible for many schools to introduce housing for same-sex couples, for instance. Yet if they did not, they would be in violation of non-discrimination rules.

As I predicted based on my current research into the history of conservative evangelical higher education, this kind of thing would likely lead to another fracture among the network of conservative colleges and universities.

Once the decision was passed, it did indeed prompt a split among conservative Christian schools. Some schools immediately changed their policies about homosexuality to accommodate the ruling. Others doubled down on their existing policies banning homosexuality.

We read with interest this week that some three dozen religious schools have applied for a waiver from Title IX. Via the New York Times, we see news from The Column that handfuls of Christian college have successfully applied for waivers.

Column list of schools

Waivers for all?

As The Column reports, the original language of Title IX banned sex- and gender-based discrimination at institutions of higher education. But it included a vital loophole. Such rules, the law stated, could be waived in some cases. As Andy Birkey of The Column puts it,

When Title IX was passed in 1972 to combat discrimination based on sex, Congress added a small but powerful provision that states that an educational institution that is “controlled by a religious organization” does not have to comply if Title IX “would not be consistent with the religious tenets of such organization.”

Apparently, thirty-six schools have applied for these waivers, and twenty-seven have been approved. For many of the schools, the Christian Legal Society has provided a how-to guide to apply for such waivers.

For conservative colleges, this waiver might seem to solve their legal and religious pickle. But it will not heal the rift between such schools. Schools such as Goshen College and Eastern Mennonite University, have already left the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. They changed their policies to welcome homosexual faculty, and presumably transgender faculty as well.

This loophole might provide wiggle room for some conservative religious schools. It leaves the most important questions on the table, however. What is the proper religious attitude toward non-heterosexual sex? Toward non-traditional marriages? Toward gender identity and sexuality as a whole?

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35 Comments

  1. Let the fracturing continue. We’ll see which decent schools are still standing for inclusion when the dust settles.

    Reply
  2. Some key facts and clarifications:

    1) It’s not just Title IX that’s in play but also related material in other sections (IV, VII) of the Civil Rights Act as well as the Fair Housing Act.

    2) It’s discrimination on the basis of “sex” that’s treated in these laws since they date back to the 1960s. They say nothing about gender and sexuality as such, but the courts, the DOJ, DOE, DOL, EEOC, OSHA, and HUD have all read “sex discrimination” expansively to include gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation. These categories are increasingly specified in many state and local civil rights statutes. The US Congress, however, consistently opposes an expansive interpretation of the law.

    3) The only unambiguous right LGBT citizens have is the right to marry someone of the same gender. Since the US does not have other well-defined civil rights for LGBT people, it’s unclear what kinds of discrimination the religious exemptions include. The kinds of religious institutions that are eligible for an exemption are not clear either.

    4) Probably the most established interpretation of what “sex discrimination” means pertains to the sexual-reproductive activity of heterosexual men and women. Religious organizations have been allowed to discipline or terminate employees for extramarital sex, using IVF, and having abortions — as long as they do this in a consistent, even-handed way. Individual cases of discrimination have been contested in the courts and with federal agencies like the EEOC taking positions against religious employers. The religious exemption is not automatic. For example, see Herx v. Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Inc. where a Catholic school teacher was fired for using IVF and awarded $19 Million in damages because the school did not consistently follow its policies and discipline a male teacher who was known to have celebrated his birthday at a strip club. This even-handed approach may incentivize religious institutions to police employee behavior more closely, and this ought to result in punitive actions against *heterosexuals* 90-99% of the time. I can’t imagine that will be broadly popular.

    5) I doubt any religious colleges “ban homosexuality” as such. Usually the minimum level of tolerance is to accept students (and potentially employees) who identify as something other than heterosexual as long as it’s never “advocated” or “acted upon.”

    Reply
  3. Agellius

     /  December 13, 2015

    “It leaves the most important questions on the table, however. What is the proper religious attitude toward non-heterosexual sex? Toward non-traditional marriages? Toward gender identity and sexuality as a whole?”

    Unless I’m misunderstanding you, I believe these questions were answered a couple of millennia ago.

    Reply
    • But not really! If a Mennonite college decides that homosexual faculty are acceptable, that changes the discussion. Or, to be more specific, it demonstrates that the discussion has been changed.

      Reply
      • Agellius

         /  December 13, 2015

        It depends on your premises, obviously. If you believe Christian doctrine and morals are whatever people say they are, subject to a vote and with every opinion given equal weight, then they never can be settled once and for all. But most Christians believe they are revealed by God through authoritative sources and therefore not subject to change.

      • @Agellius: They also thought that about slavery, the position and movement of the earth relative to the sun, the age of the earth, and human origins. The only traditions that don’t change are the dead ones. For the living, if new information becomes so compelling it cannot be disregarded, then what was formerly assumed as “revelation” is recognized as a misunderstanding, and new interpretations are developed. This can be presented as a “clarification” of underlying immutable truths if humility, apology, and reform are dangerously destabilizing concepts you wish to avoid.

  4. Agellius

     /  December 14, 2015

    The “traditions” that don’t change are the ones that can’t change because they are believed to have been revealed by God. Not everything that Christians have believed throughout the ages falls into that category.

    Reply
    • Incorrect. You’re talking about the Catholic church’s hierarchy of dogmatic certainty which no other Christians accept, but even in that context there’s a simple logic at work that no theologian can deny: an unchanging dogma doesn’t change *because* it is believed to be revealed; it doesn’t change because it *IS* revealed and has been adequately articulated as dogma. The adequacy of the dogma will always be uncertain.

      Additionally, the Roman Catholic dogmas that have been pushed up the bureaucratic hierarchy of infallibility by the Roman magisterium to an “infallible,” “irreformable,” or merely “definitive” status do not pertain directly to sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. There is a lot of disagreement about what is or isn’t in these categories, so there are (mostly lay) people who try to rope in the medieval development of teachings about sex and marriage as a sacrament, just as others try to rope in geocentrism or whatever anti-modern, anti-science concept happens to have ensnared their minds.

      Supposedly settled by 1820, geocentrism remains an option for certain faithful Catholics, and the last pope defended the actions of the Inquisition against Galileo when he was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith, formerly known as the Inquisition. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUMkcBctE7c there is no reason why most Catholics and most other Christians who see that new information can expose theological errors in this area cannot also entertain the same possibility (as they obviously do) regarding human sexuality.

      Reply
  5. Agellius

     /  December 14, 2015

    Catholics are not the only Christians who believe that things revealed by God cannot be changed. As for the rest, I’m not going to argue with you. I know what my religion teaches. Of course there is a lot of disagreement over certain things. That was my point when I said that “If you believe Christian doctrine and morals are whatever people say they are, subject to a vote and with every opinion given equal weight, then they never can be settled once and for all.” A lot of self-professed Christians see things that way, due undoubtedly to the influence of modern secular culture, but it is not the traditional, and I would say authentic, Christian view.

    Reply
    • You’re confusing the issue by blaming vague bogeymen (“modern secular culture”) without any logical warrant, and you seem to have misunderstood my main point: everyone — including all Christian theologians — has to agree that divine revelation (however it is defined, whether you believe in it or not) is one thing that exists on a totally different order of existence than the other, which is our imperfect human world and human theological interpretations of truths revealed by God, nature, or what have you. The one is assumed to be perfect, and the other has to be less perfect (i.e. imperfect) even if we are talking about a modern pope in full regalia speaking on behalf of God and exercising his bureaucratically conferred “infallibility.”

      Aquinas himself said that theological statements are never identical with or comprehensive of the truth they gesture toward analogically. When a particular theological tradition is threatened by scientific information and/or other approaches to theology, this cannot be dismissed out of hand simply because it means changing what has *seemed* “settled” for some time in the past. Theological change does not necessarily cause a crisis that can only lead to some sort of radical democratization where experts lose their authority unless you have set up this kind of reaction by mystifying religious authorities and demonizing reform in the face of compelling reasons to engage in it.

      The pragmatic political problem of maintaining control over your people and institutions really has nothing to do with the truth of the matter and exposes just how cynical and corrupt a system has become when order is the overriding concern. This sort of conservatism feeds its own failure when it’s unable to sustain it through authoritarian coercion. Experts of any kind always lose their authority when they refuse to deal with new, compelling information that is plain to others.

      Reply
  6. Agellius

     /  December 14, 2015

    Yes. Divine revelation is not the same as our understanding and interpretation of divine revelation. But the whole point of the Church (or if you’re a Protestant, the Bible alone) is to receive revelation and pass it on to human beings in a manner they can understand and rely upon as being true, and therefore act upon even “to the point of shedding blood” (Heb. 12:4).

    I agree that when a “theological tradition” is threatened by scientific information, it can’t be dismissed out of hand. In fact I have noted this on my own blog (https://agellius.wordpress.com/2015/12/02/st-thomas-on-scripture-and-science/). But the physical and experimental sciences are not of universal applicability. The Church’s teachings on of the sacrament of marriage and the morality of sexual relations outside marriage or between persons of the same sex, do not fall into the category of beliefs which have been threatened, or for that matter even addressed, by the findings of modern science.

    Reply
    • Others disagree, and I think there will be a lot more data forthcoming.

      I know you are generalizing, but “sola scriptura” was never followed in any pure sense by Luther, and it really is not possible in practice. Other Protestants didn’t take that emphasis or were not technically Protestant at all. And then there are Protestants or modern post-confessional charismatic and pentecostal groups that believe they have ongoing mystical access to divine revelation. None are all that different from Catholics; they just lack the central command and control system.

      Reply
  7. Agellius

     /  December 14, 2015

    No doubt there will be “more data,” but judging sexual morality by scientific data is like determining the age of the earth, and the relative orbits of the sun and the planets, by divine revelation. : )

    Reply
    • I was thinking more about Protestants and Catholics who do not assume same sex attraction is intrinsically immoral or that sex transmits sin even when it’s done in the only approved way (e.g., PIV sex, married male-female, never been divorced, no contraceptives), or that it’s extremely immoral when it’s not done that way. For Christians like that, the conservatives tend to be stuck on the question of whether homosexuality is innate or acquired, natural or deviant, and whether there is something corrupting and wrong with non-coital sex. Social mores and social-psychological data have changed pretty fast, but they have begin to give good answers to people who are still where the APA was in 1970. So I echo what Douglas said about that.

      If Christianity for you means embracing the mentality and mores of anti-modernist Catholicism, sure — facts and reason are beside the point. But you shouldn’t support Christians imposing some punitive, restrictive version of this view on a whole society through its laws. You are way off base to suggest this is anything like a common position for Christians in general. You could say similar taboos and mores have persisted in other traditions long after the theological justifications and other structural support for them has disappeared, so they’re not actually very good allies.

      Reply
  8. Mennonites came into being, and continue to exist today, because they did no accept the “traditional and … authentic Christian view” of the Catholic Church. And the Mennonite perspective, and well as that of the Protestant world cannot be dismissed as “self-professed” Christianity. This always seems to like the ‘no true Scotsman’ argument. I find it encouraging when a church or denomination wrestles with the 21st century reality of same-sex attraction, which yes, the science affirms, rather than embracing a blindered perspective.

    Reply
    • Agellius

       /  December 15, 2015

      Douglas:

      Science affirms the “reality” of same-sex attraction, of course. (Who denies that it’s real?) But the morality? How can science decide that?

      You speak of the “21st century reality” of same-sex attraction, as if this is a new reality that Christians never knew before. (Or does it imply that life in previous centuries was less real?) The only “reality” that’s new is that it has become socially acceptable. So evidently you believe that Christian moral teaching needs to be flexible and must be “adjusted” to conform to the “realities”, that is, the changing social standards, of one century or another.

      But I wonder: If a 21st century denomination “wrestles” with the “reality” of same-sex attraction, and decides that it is in fact normal, and sex between persons of the same sex is perfectly moral, and therefore same-sex marriage is in accord with God’s will here in the 21st century: Will this be a permanent determination of God’s will? Or will it be subject to further “wrestling” in accordance with the “realities” of future centuries?

      What if, after 200 or 300 years, same-sex attraction falls out of favor socially, and the same denomination again decides to remove their “blinders” and “wrestle” with the “reality” of same-sex attraction in the 24th century, rather than accept the judgment of previous generations of Christians? And what if, after wrestling with it, they decide that homosexual sex is no longer in accord with God’s will? Would you (as a hypothetical denizen of that church in that century) accept that decision as legitimate for their time and place, even though it’s the wrong decision for our time and place?

      Or is it actually your position that homosexual sex is *always* good and normal, and same-sex marriage is *always* in accord with God’s will? That is, notwithstanding all this talk of the nobility of being flexible and “wrestling” with things rather than rigidly adhering to a single truth, do you actually consider the rightness of homosexual sex to be an unchanging and unchangeable truth? In fact, a dogma?

      Reply
      • Your hypotheticals seem disconnected from any real issue. I think it’s fairly obvious he means the basis for same sex attraction (and a host of other non-heteronormative realities) are better documented now and understood as biologically based. That means the old premodern, religious views of sexuality are fundamentally misguided. If we do not assume that human sexuality has a single, correct model then what does ethical behavior look like, on Christian (or any ethical) grounds, for non-heterosexual people?

      • Agellius

         /  December 15, 2015

        Dan:

        You write, “I think it’s fairly obvious he means the basis for same sex attraction (and a host of other non-heteronormative realities) are better documented now and understood as biologically based. That means the old premodern, religious views of sexuality are fundamentally misguided.”

        Obviously our sexual attractions are biologically based. Aquinas and Augustine and even St. Paul knew that. It doesn’t follow from that premise alone that “religious views of sexuality are fundamentally misguided.” That conclusion depends on the additional, unspoken premise that any and all biologically based urges should be acted upon, which I think very few people would agree with.

      • Some brief responses:
        Many of us scientists would argue that science is non-moral, and thus could/should not try to define something as moral or immoral. As noted, science is investigating the biological basis of same-sex attraction, and is also investigating the evolution of ‘morality’.
        I have next to no interest in the church of 50 years ago or in the church 50 years from now; thus, for me it would be worthless work to have a discussion about such.
        I also think that it is unlikely that either Agellius or I will alter our perspectives on this issue, and thus I will not address his “questions”. Suffice it to say that I believe that the covenant between two individuals is of prime importance, and what is immoral is the breaking of that covenant regardless of whether the couple is same sex or complementary sex.
        My take on the words attributed to Jesus is that those recorded in Matthew 25 are the most important. We will not be judged by which creeds we recite, which doctrines or dogmas we uphold, or which of the 40,000 brands of Christianity we follow, but rather by how we treat ‘the other.’

      • @Agellius — Aquinas, Augustine and Paul did not share our mental framework. They do not imagine human biology (or desire) to be anything like what modern people understand it to be. They operated in a world where material and spiritual substances co-existed. As much as modern religious believers of premodern faiths may try to retain this sort of view, it is really an exercise in creative anachronism. That world is gone, and the value of it does not lie in fruitless efforts to try to get its philosophical machinery (as opposed to its truth intentions) functioning again. I take it this is roughly what Alasdair MacIntyre means when he says Aristotle is still good for ethics but bad for metaphysics.

        You’re right that few people would say that all desires or impulses should be acted on or gratified, so I don’t know why you’d suggest that is anyone’s premise here.

  9. Agellius

     /  December 15, 2015

    Douglas:

    You write, “My take on the words attributed to Jesus is that those recorded in Matthew 25 are the most important.”

    You are welcome to give priority to whatever sayings of Jesus you choose. But the mere fact that we pay attention to what he says, especially concerning the things we will be judged upon, assumes that he is someone that we need to listen to. That being the case, it doesn’t seem like a good idea to ignore the rest of what he says, on the ground that what he says in Matt. 25 is the “most important.” Other things that he says could still be important to our eternal destiny, even if not “most important.”

    Reply
    • Most important certainly does not conflate to other things being unimportant. Every Christian stratifies scripture, with many portions of the Hebrew bible being relegated to irrelevance. Even the teachings of Jesus are often stratified and/or interpreted differently by different groups, each believing that they are being faithful while disagreeing substantively. The Amish and the Mormons come to mind 🙂

      Reply
    • The idea that people have to figure out religious texts and ideas properly in order not to be punished by a deity seems like more of a Protestant and Islamic Fundamentalist problem than a Catholic one. Anyone who doesn’t think they need to (or can) share biblical figure’s cultural and mental frame is not going to follow you with either that literalism or the stakes.

      Reply
  10. Agellius

     /  December 16, 2015

    Dan:

    You write, “Aquinas, Augustine and Paul … operated in a world where material and spiritual substances co-existed. As much as modern religious believers of premodern faiths may try to retain this sort of view, it is really an exercise in creative anachronism. That world is gone….”

    What you’re saying apparently boils down to the assertion that “Modern science has proven that spiritual things don’t exist.” But it hasn’t, nor by definition can it.

    You write, “You’re right that few people would say that all desires or impulses should be acted on or gratified, so I don’t know why you’d suggest that is anyone’s premise here.”

    Sorry, I thought my reasoning was clear but maybe I need to spell it out. You stated the premise that the basis of same-sex attraction is now understood to be biologically based. And from that premise you drew the conclusion that religious views of sexuality are “fundamentally misguided.” In syllogistic form your argument was:

    Premise A: The basis of same-sex attraction is understood to be biologically based.
    Conclusion: Therefore, religious views of sexuality are wrong.

    Obviously this is an incomplete syllogism since it lacks a major premise. I proceeded to supply a major premise which could support your conclusion, so that the syllogism now runs like this:

    Premise A: All biologically based urges should be acted upon.
    Premise B: The basis of same-sex attraction is understood to be biologically based.
    Conclusion: Therefore, religious views of sexuality [which require people to control or suppress their biologically based urges] are wrong.

    I wasn’t saying that you necessarily subscribe to Premise A. Perhaps there is another major premise which leads to your conclusion given your stated minor premise. But if so, I don’t know what it is.

    Reply
    • You keep saying I’m saying things I have not said. What I was getting at is their classical metaphysics — that is gone. We can posit the reality of “spiritual things” but not the way they did. Aquinas is a rather different case than the other two, and if you’re just talking about things like theistic arguments, that’s very different from talking about souls and desire. Traditional Christian sexual morality is ultimately rooted in assumptions about souls, desire, and sin as a kind of substance that is always transmitted through any kind of sex whose only redeeming value is procreation. What men and women are, and how their bodies work, and an ethics arising from how we understand that now would never come to the conclusions of Paul, Augustine, or Aquinas. That’s what I have been trying to get across.

      Reply
      • Agellius

         /  December 16, 2015

        Dan:

        You write, “What men and women are, and how their bodies work, and an ethics arising from how we understand that now would never come to the conclusions of Paul, Augustine, or Aquinas. That’s what I have been trying to get across.”

        If I understand you, you’re saying that, were modern people to form an ethics of their own invention, starting from scratch based on the findings of modern science, they would not come to the conclusion that certain kinds of sex were immoral, as Paul, Augustine and Aquinas did. Well, of course not. And that’s because, as I have been saying (which Douglas agreed with), science has nothing to say about right and wrong.

        Modern science has not detected anything that the pre-moderns didn’t know, which has any bearing on morals. The finding (for example) that certain sexual urges or attractions are based on specific parts of the brain, or maybe even in the genes, is fascinating, but all that does is provide further specificity for things that the premoderns already knew in broad outline: That our sexual urges and attractions are based in “the flesh”. It’s as if you had known for a long time that an acquaintance was from Africa, but now you’ve learned that he is specifically from the city of Bauchi in Nigeria. Very interesting, to be sure, if you’re a detail-oriented person. But this new information doesn’t overturn what you knew before, it only provides a further specification.

      • That’s a huge leap you’re making to reach that conclusion, which isn’t one I’ve been arguing against in any case.

        I don’t think it’s controversial to say science reduced to observation and method has no moral compass. Science in that sense provides the basic data to which values and and ethics are applied. They’re going to tend to be “smuggled in” and affect interpretation, but a reasonably cautious, conscientious person with access to a good peer review process can mitigate biases short of the big ones that take a very long time for a culture to pass through.

        If you look at what premodern people thought was going on in men and women’s bodies in different scenarios and how they theorized this, it is obviously bad science by our lights. If they — like modern Christians — had known more about human biology it would be *more difficult* for them to apply the pre-Christian hyper-masculinist prejudices of their cultures to the data that way Aristotle does, for example, when he talks about female sexuality and fertility. They would still be likely to come up with deeply misogynistic material that privileges the dominant, virile male because the power of culture is that strong. But a basic understanding of the reproductive, blood and nervous systems would make it difficult to theorize sex in terms of thermal processes where an active, “ensouling” masculine substance brings to life an inert, passive, “cold” female substance.

        Christian thought did not just fall from the sky but absorbed material like that, and unsurprisingly it has a very negative view of sex, women, and non-procreative sexuality. Christians who do not feel it is good faith or good reasoning to save the appearances of the supposed “seamless garment” of Catholic theology by any means necessary are able to make critical distinctions and rethink their ethics minus their pre-Christian pre-scientific biases, data, and theories. You are in a tougher situation, but there is always wiggle room as the tradition develops. As James Allison has pointed out, the previous pope introduced material into his statements on human sexuality that refer to the Symposium where the homosexual Socrates discusses homo- and bi-sexuality. This is not all that unusual because this dialogue is seminal to Christian thought about love and desire.

  11. Agellius

     /  December 16, 2015

    “That’s a huge leap you’re making to reach that conclusion, which isn’t one I’ve been arguing against in any case.”

    Can you tell me what conclusion you’re referring to? And then maybe you can tell me why it’s a “huge leap”.

    Frankly I find your second paragraph baffling. Traditional Christian sexual morality is very simple and applies to both sexes equally: No sex outside marriage (which is between one man and one woman); no sex which is not procreative in nature (though it needn’t always be procreative in fact). Violations of either of these is a mortal sin, for persons of either sex. That about sums it up.

    If some Christians in earlier times also “theorize[d] sex in terms of thermal processes where an active, ‘ensouling’ masculine substance brings to life an inert, passive, ‘cold’ female substance,” what about it? Do you contend that the “no fornicating” commandment arose out of a theory of thermal processes? That if men had acknowledged women’s equality, then sodomy would never have been a sin? Or what?

    Reply
    • I meant that there is no logical passage from the recognition that that modern people with modern scientific knowledge about reproduction, sexuality, etc. would come to different moral conclusions than St. Paul et al. to the idea that “science has nothing to say about right and wrong.” They’re both true but have nothing directly to do with each other.

      A purely empirical account of human biology — or as close to one as any era can get — is always the (scientific) starting point for any moral assessment that follows. Galen and Aristotle mix the two together a bit, and Christian theology continued to develop that kind of received material — all of it based on a completely misguided model of how things actually work, biologically speaking. If St. Paul had not had such bad material to work with, he still would have applied the same (substantially Jewish) moral principles. If he knew what we do, simply on the scientific side, maybe he would have come up with something closer to Jewish thought then and now:

      “Sex outside marriage — it happens. Put a ring on it or move along. Don’t exploit each other. Have kids — preferably at least two. If she doesn’t consent, you don’t force her. Rape and adultery are a big deal as violent crimes, but everything else is not the end of the world nor in need of some kind of juridical process (beyond parental and communal admonishments, as they see fit). There is no “mortal” (or “original”) sin without Augustine to cook this up based on his NeoPlatonism and a conveniently bad translation of Hebrew to Greek in the Septuagint. (Mary was a young woman, not a virgin.) Homosexual, bisexual, transgender people exist and present a certain conundrum for the community we’re going to have to work through carefully — but again, no need to treat them criminally if they are not hurting anyone.”

      You keep trying to universalize late medieval and really 19th century Roman Catholic dogma as “Christian” and read it back into the time of Paul. You seem to think that without that whole dogmatic edifice, there is nothing but freewheeling fornication to endorse as a moral response to the facts of nature. I do think that if the classical metaphysics, misogyny, and revulsion at female physiology were removed then the anxiety Paul has about sex contaminating the soul would not have been the major force it is in his thinking on the subject, and Augustine would not have set this on its path to a very narrow corner that the law, psychology, and other fields are only just beginning to break out of. The reaction to this reaction that you seem to have — as some kind of baleful secularizing process — is a misguided attempt to preserve bad theology that enshrines pre-scientific errors and downright immoral, unChristian prejudices.

      Reply
  12. Agellius

     /  December 17, 2015

    You write, ‘I meant that there is no logical passage from the recognition that that modern people with modern scientific knowledge about reproduction, sexuality, etc. would come to different moral conclusions than St. Paul et al. to the idea that “science has nothing to say about right and wrong.” They’re both true but have nothing directly to do with each other.’

    I didn’t say that the latter followed from the former. My argument was that modern people could not come to any moral conclusions about sexuality based on scientific findings, let alone the same moral conclusions as St. Paul, et al., *because* science has nothing to say about right and wrong. Also because modern science “discovering” that sexual attraction is biologically based has no bearing on sexual morality, which governs not attraction but behavior.

    As to the rest of your comment, my bafflement continues. First you speak — we both do — as though St. Paul, Augustine and Aquinas all taught the same sexual morality, lining them up on one side while contending that modern people with modern scientific knowledge would not have come up with the same sexual morality that they did. Now you seem to be saying that the sexual morality I espouse did not arise until the late medieval period, or “really the 19th century”, and I’m only reading this late development “back into” St. Paul.

    Are you saying that St. Paul and Augustine would not have agreed with Aquinas and me that fornication, adultery and sodomy are serious sins? Or, what am I espousing as Christian sexual morality that St. Paul would not have agreed with?

    I asked you before in what way, specifically, did the “misguided model of how things actually work, biologically speaking” affect Christian sexual morality? You keep asserting that things would have been different had St. Paul, et al. known modern biology, but you still have not connected the dots as far as I can see. What modern biological finding would make, e.g., fornication and adultery (even if not “freewheeling”) morally OK?

    I think part of the problem is that you conflate “Christian thought” with the divine commandments. “Thou shalt not commit adultery” has nothing to do with thermal processes or the passing on of sin through sexual activity, and so forth, but is a direct commandment from God. You may dispute this, and say that the commandment itself was a result and a reflection of existing misogynistic tendencies in Jewish culture; in other words, take a materialistic or “scientific” view of the origin of the “so-called commandments” (although even then, I would have a hard time understanding how cultural misogyny leads to a blanket prohibition of fornication, adultery and sodomy for both sexes; wouldn’t it be more likely to forbid things for women while allowing them for men?).

    But if you’re taking the “scientific” view exclusively, then that right there is likely the core of our disagreement: My belief in Christian sexual morality is a matter of faith, not science. “Faith” by definition is belief in something that cannot be known or discovered through the natural faculties. By my natural faculties alone, without any belief in Christian revelation, maybe I would have a hard time concluding that homosexual sex, or premarital sex, or non-procreative sex are wrong. But given my belief that these things have been prohibited by divine commandment, I don’t feel any need to justify them philosophically or scientifically, nor do I believe that they are a result of faulty reasoning based on scientific ignorance.

    In fact, I think that you put the cart before the horse, when you argue that scientific ignorance resulted in Christian morality prohibiting the things that it does. I think the pre-scientific speculations and theorizing about sexual morality came after the fact: In other words, given that these things have been commanded by God (which Paul, Augustine and Aquinas all agree on), what can we extrapolate about them? Doubtless much of the extrapolation was bogus and based on faulty understandings of biology. But the bogus extrapolation is not the reason why Christian morality is what it is. The commandments came long before the extrapolations.

    Reply
    • The reason for your bafflement: You are arguing with views you think I have but don’t and things you think I’ve implied but haven’t. You’re unable to see how much we agree on, and you seem focused on “winning” an argument between polarized positions rather than understanding a subject and other people as they actually are. This suggest you don’t believe there is more for you to learn or anything of value in perspectives other than your own.

      I’ve agreed repeatedly (in general) with the things you say above in your first two paragraphs. On the rest, I assumed you would gather from context I understand Paul as a product of Hebrew and Hellenic thought, but you may not understand how in that context there is no clear moral prohibition of homosexual sex as we think of it. If you read about the rabbinical tradition on these subjects as well as eunuchs and “third gender” people in the ancient world, it would help. I alluded to Augustine being much more of a product of Hellenic thought through Latin sources, and it is only with him that we get “original sin” (but no “mortal sin”) yet and a notion of the soul, sin, and spiritual substances conceived of as immaterial analogs of biological systems — which is how the Stoics and Manicheans understood psychological processes, optics, and our internal plumbing. Mixed with Aristotle and Galen it’s all of a piece with the ancient masculinist revulsion at bodies, sex, and especially female bodies. It is almost like a germ theory of sin that develops with Augustine and after, but this is not fully elaborated until the scholastics, and then in the 19th century you get the immaculate conception dogmatized, which is about Mary as the sole exception among all human women ever to live as being free from original sin because she never had sex, and neither did her mother in the conception of Mary. It is quite obvious what the continuous ruling concept is in this tradition: sex itself, even between men and women, is fraught with peril, sin, and filth. Jewish thought has never run into such a derailment which many, if not most modern Jews and most Christians see as such — as counter to the true core and integrity of their moral traditions. They can and do come to a range of views about contraception, abortion, extramarital sex, homosexual sex and marriage, etc., but they have substantially more flexibility and tolerance than the high medieval Catholic tradition in its dogmatic, anti-modernist modern form which you speak of as if it is close to or part of a general Judaeo-Christian consensus. It isn’t.

      Reply
  13. Agellius

     /  December 17, 2015

    You write, “The reason for your bafflement: … you seem focused on “winning” an argument between polarized positions rather than understanding a subject and other people as they actually are. This suggest you don’t believe there is more for you to learn or anything of value in perspectives other than your own.”

    Or it could be that you don’t express yourself as clearly as you think you do. I get the feeling that you are assuming a lot that you don’t spell out on the assumption that I will know what you’re getting at. In particular, you tend not to spell out your arguments but often leave your premises unspoken. I deny that I am not interested in understanding a subject and other people as they actually are. I spend a lot of time on the blogs of people that I don’t agree with (e.g. liberal Catholic blogs, Mormon blogs) and have learned from the experience and even changed my mind on some things (details available upon request). But being able to grasp a position which is apparently at odds with our own (whether or not we eventually come to agree with it) requires first of all that it be expressed in a manner that is clearly spelled out and reasonably easy to comprehend, since the person you’re arguing with likely doesn’t share all of your presuppositions. I strive to make my arguments simple and clear. Do you?

    You write, “I assumed you would gather from context I understand Paul as a product of Hebrew and Hellenic thought, but you may not understand how in that context there is no clear moral prohibition of homosexual sex as we think of it. If you read about the rabbinical tradition on these subjects as well as eunuchs and “third gender” people in the ancient world, it would help. I alluded to Augustine being much more of a product of Hellenic thought through Latin sources, and it is only with him that we get “original sin” (but no “mortal sin”) yet and a notion of the soul, sin, and spiritual substances conceived of as immaterial analogs of biological systems — which is how the Stoics and Manicheans understood psychological processes, optics, and our internal plumbing. Mixed with Aristotle and Galen it’s all of a piece with the ancient masculinist revulsion at bodies, sex, and especially female bodies. It is almost like a germ theory of sin that develops with Augustine and after, but this is not fully elaborated until the scholastics, ….”

    Fine, but in the New Testament itself we already find fornication, adultery and sodomy condemned as immoral, being violations of God’s commandments, and they’re still considered as such today. So I’m still not sure what all this stuff that happened in the middle has to do with the main point our discussion: That the immorality of homosexual sex in Christian morality has been settled for centuries. I understand and don’t deny that modern Christians “can and do come to a range of views about contraception, abortion, extramarital sex, homosexual sex and marriage, etc.” But the key word here is “modern”.

    You write, “It is quite obvious what the continuous ruling concept is in this tradition: sex itself, even between men and women, is fraught with peril, sin, and filth.”

    Sex is fraught with peril, yes, but not sex alone. The “continuous ruling concept”, rather, is concupiscence, which has to do with a lot more than sex, but concerns the “lusts of the flesh” generally, including the lust for food, for comfort, for beautiful and luxurious things, and for the money with which to secure all these things: “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.” 1 Jn. 2:15-17.

    You write, “in the 19th century you get the immaculate conception dogmatized, which is about Mary as the sole exception among all human women ever to live as being free from original sin because she never had sex, and neither did her mother in the conception of Mary.”

    Mary is not believed to be free from original sin because she never had sex. That wouldn’t make sense since original sin is contracted at conception, and no one, I believe, has sex before conception. It’s also false that Mary’s mother didn’t have sex in the conception of Mary. Christ’s is the only Virgin Birth that Christians believe in. You’re obviously very well read, but for all that, you may not grasp Catholicism as well as you think you do.

    Reply
    • I do the best I can — as quickly as I can — for someone most people have the sense to ignore as a big waste of their time. Why not email me or pick a different forum because this is insanely long and goes far from the OP.

      I actually do know how the tortured logic goes re. SS. Mary and Anne, but it’s hard to keep such a bad story straight while going fast. Same point applies: sin comes into all people at conception unless they are conceived immaculately or by God. Catholics add perpetual virginity to Mary’s resume to complete the idealization of femininity as purity identified with NOT HAVING SEX–EVER. This misogynistic, generally misanthropic *theology* is based on an ancient *scientific* theory of how human bodies work that is largely Greek in origin.

      With your “fine” I take it that you’ve conceded my whole point.

      As to your “but in the New Testament itself we already find fornication, adultery and sodomy condemned as immoral, being violations of God’s commandments, and they’re still considered as such today.”

      Not true. “Sodomy” is poorly defined and poorly understood in the NT context. It will probably take a generation of scholarship to settle, but I don’t think anyone believes it includes oral sex, as it came to later. Female-female sex is licit in the OT and accepted as something some women do, but it’s not a big deal even if they are married to priests because it’s not seen as sex. In the ancient world sex means a dominant person penetrating a submissive person. Male-male penetrative sex is treated in the rabbinical tradition as something terrible that’s impossible to punish, which is a not uncommon aspect of that tradition. It’s defined as a capital crime, but it’s only prosecuted if it’s done persistently and publicly, which basically means — keep it out of view, you get one warning. There is little to no dealing with transexuality and transgender in Jewish or Christian traditions, as far as I know.

      Maybe we can agree that the juridical, punitive, “this is a major sin!” approach to perceived unconventional sex acts climaxes in the late middle ages with Protestants glomming on and then slowly realizing it’s based on bunk science and bad, Catholic theology whose premises and superstructure they’ve rejected.

      Reply
  1. That Was The Week That Was | The Pietist Schoolman

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