Gay Sex: Moral or Immoral?

24/03/2015Print This Post

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Gary Gutting, professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, provides food for debate in the form of a recent New York Times article. In it he claims there is a good argument to be made that strongly supports the claim that homosexual acts are not in general immoral, nor is there a  need to conclude that God’s revelation says otherwise. This he claims, points the way to the church’s acceptance of homosexual acts as part of a morally fulfilling human relationship.

He also suggests that while understanding that bishops are not politically in a position to deny what is still an official church doctrine, there is nothing that requires them to vigorously enforce a teaching that they consider dubious even in terms of the church’s own view on the two accepted sources of truth, namely faith and reason, or specifically in this case, scripture and natural law.

Click here to visit the New York Times article

Gary Gutting

Gary Gutting is a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, and an editor of Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

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11 Responses to “Gay Sex: Moral or Immoral?”
  1. Aidan says:

    A thought-provoking critique of Natural Law theory by the philosopher Gary Gutting

    I have long considered the arguments from Natural Law to be too hung up on the physicalness, mechanics and biology of the bodily acts they are discussing. They ignore the processes of physical, social and moral evolution which might be giving ‘added human value and meaning’ to the primeval, biological purpose of those physical actions.

    Take the example of eating food and drinking liquids. The original primeval and biological purpose of eating and drinking were to build up the body and enable it to grow and function. By Natural Law that was the purpose of these ‘natural’ or biological acts. The inherent pleasures in eating and drinking when hungry or thirsty were seen as provided by nature to ensure they took place.

    Over time humankind developed new human, non-biological dimensions to those physical acts. Inviting someone to share food or drink was given the additional ability to create an important social dimension or bond around the physical acts of eating and drinking, irrespective of whether the food and drink were biologically required by the body at that time. The offering of sustenance to another person was seen as more than just the physical, biological act of enabling the other person to sustain their body. Offering and accepting food and liquid refreshment, outside the realm of dire necessity (as in famine or drought), became an act of human hospitality and friendship. The person accepting the invitation to share in this way would often do so, even when not particularly hungry or thirsty and so not physically or biologically requiring them. They would accept in order not to offend the host’s offer of hospitality and to acknowledge its human (rather than biological) purpose in establishing social contact or establishing/enhancing a friendly relationship.

    It would be unthinkable for a person to refuse the offer of a social meal or liquid refreshment because it was not strictly necessary for the biological functioning of their body at that time and hence against Natural Law (i.e. against the primeval, biological purpose of eating and drinking). Professor Garry Gutting has applied this concept of ‘added human value and meaning’ (my own expression) to the physical actions of sex, including gay sex (and presumably pre-marital sex), arguing that “sex is a powerful and unique way of building, celebrating, and replenishing intimacy… that would contribute to a couple’s fulfillment as human beings.” Those added human values are in addition to the original, physical and procreative purpose of sex and replace the latter when procreative sex is impossible (gender, age or infertility) or deemed inappropriate.

    Research from around the world shows that most Catholic married couples and gay people in committed partnerships appreciate the human, psychological and grace-filled purpose of sex within their faithful and loving relationships, its ‘added human value and meaning’ even when not biologically procreative. However to try to extend that evolutionary development to casual, recreational or unfaithful sex, whether gay or heterosexual in nature, would be to demean rather than enhance the human meaning and value of sexual activity, as binge eating or drinking demeans the human value of those activities.

    • Martin Murray says:

      An excellent analogy Aidan.

      • Aidan says:

        Thank you Martin. I was attempting to use reason, an essential component of natural law theory, to consider nature and natural law as evolving rather than static, immutable and permanent. In that way I think it better expresses the dignity of the human person in an increasingly complex and evolving world, where things that were once forced to be hidden have now come into the light. The dignity of the human person finds its fullness and unity in the Christ, whose divine perfection it seeks to finally evolve into;its Omega point of final fulfillment and perfection. This is the cosmic Christ or that aspect of the risen Christ which pervades every part of creation and every created being and “fills the universe in all its parts” (Ephesians 1:23) and already brings about the restored or new creation within those who follow Jesus the Christ (i.e. “who is in Christ”). This is irrespective of their natural sexual orientation, “for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17). That revelation of the cosmic Christ reminds me of the ancient Breastplate prayer of St. Patrick, particularly the penultimate verse beginning with ‘Christ be with me, Christ within me etc’. This stresses the presence of Christ within all of humanity and all around us in everything that ‘has being’ or exists. God is ultimate Being; “I am who is” (‘Ehyeh’/’YHWH’; Exodus 3:13-14)

        It is great that the visionary Jesuit philosopher, geologist and paleontologist Teilhard de Jardin’s seminal works on evolution have finally been reinstated in the Catholic Church. That has now been crowned by Pope Francis (following previous positive statements about evolution by Pius X11 in 1950 and St. John Paul 11 in 1996), in his recent address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. In that statement Pope Francis gives strong support to the scientific theory of evolution; “evolution of nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation because evolution pre-supposes the creation of beings which evolve.”

        Now Catholic theologians (lay and clerical, male and female) and the teaching Magisterium have to work out the implications of evolution and “beings which evolve”, including the evolution of human wisdom and human nature, for many traditional aspects of Catholic biblical, doctrinal and moral theologies, long held as immutable and unchanging. Fr. Richard Rohr OFM, founder of the American Centre for Action and Contemplation, is one of the first to take that baton and courageously run with it. He constantly decries the black & white dualism in our spirituality and theology, the ‘either this or that’ model of nature and the universe, allowing of no subtleties in between. It also mirrors the hierarchical model of spirituality prevalent in the Middle Ages, reflecting the rigid social class model of society operating at that time, where God was portrayed as being at the top, the Pope next, and then Bishops and then priests and then nuns and then, at the very bottom, the laity.

        With regard to sexual orientation, our consciousness and valuing of ‘the other’ are broadening and deepening (i.e. evolving) but we still have a long way to go. Western culture is now more inclined to see ‘that other’ as different but equal and equally valued; and certainly not as morally defective or having ‘a tendency ordered to an intrinsic moral evil.’ The latter is the static model of the universe and the immutable, permanent and thus non-evolutionary model of nature and human kind.

    • Colette Archer says:

      Aidan – thank you! You have put into words the feelings that I have been struggling to articulate recently. Really great analogy. We cannot remain hung up on literal intrepretations and the status quo from myriad generations ago. New / different isn’t necessarily wrong – it’s just different. If it deepens / strengthens interpersonal relationships, why should we call it immoral?!?

  2. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Vatican Youtube Channel June 16, 2010:
    At his weekly general audience today, Pope Benedict XVI said that all people, believers and non believers, are called to recognize the needs of human nature expressed in natural law and guided by positive law issued by civil and political authorities to regulate human coexistence. He said that when the natural law and the responsibilities it entails are denied, “it dramatically opens up the way for ethical relativism at the individual level, and for totalitarianism at the political and state level.”

    I guess the issue with the question posed by Gutting is that it doesn’t make sense in terms of what the Church’s teaching is. The Church sees it as a lie. It is a fictitious act for a man to love a man like he would a woman or a woman to love a woman like she would a man. When Pope Benedict called us to recognize the needs of human nature, exactly whose human nature was he referring – ours or that of the influence of the church. Human nature refers to the distinguishing characteristics — including ways of thinking, feeling and acting — which humans tend to have naturally, independently of the influence of culture.

    My daughter, who at the age of 15, has openly expressed her current preference for women. That is not to say that this may change someday. She lives free of the societal pressures of “being” a certain way. Is this natural? It is for her and that’s all that matters. Would I expect her to deny how she feels – if I was sick and somewhat demented, possibly. She would like to be a life companion to a woman who is making a full transformation to a man. Do I recommend this? Definitely. I know that in a different life, if I were this woman, I would want a companion to help me through the societal pressures of such a transformation. Pope Francis’s “who am I to judge” is very accurate. Unless you have offspring and see the goodness that lie within, you are nothing but a spectator in a sport you will never play.

    • Aidan says:

      Couldn’t agree with you more, Lloyd Allan.

      Only those who themselves are gay or have gay offspring can fully appreciate their inner goodness and love and how they are striving to be true to their nature, as the rest of us are trying to be true to our nature. When we beget children we accept and love them as they are and as God sent them to us, not as society or the Church or anyone else would like them to be. Your acceptance of your daughter ‘as she is’ is so important for her self-esteem and long-term happiness.

      Well done and may God, who has created us all, continue to bless both you and your daughter. May He give all of us a wider vision of His divine presence throughout the whole of creation and courage to continue realising the infinite possibilities He placed within each of us.

      • Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

        Aidan, I don’t believe God bestows a wider vision of His presence, ever. It’s up to us to experience and meet Him there. I live by Albert Maysles’ maxim : “Tyranny is the deliberate removal of nuance…” Anywhere, anyone is trying to take away our “grey” areas, there is where you will find evil/corruption. People are complex – gay sex is neither moral or immoral – it is both love and a truth which requires no label from anyone.

        • Aidan says:

          Yes Lloyd Allen, you are right and well spotted. My wording was clumsy.

          I should have said that God gives us the fullest vision of His divine presence possible to human beings at this side of the grave. However, to ‘see’ it, appreciate it and respond to it appropriately require our ongoing co-operation with the presence and work of the Holy Spirit within us.

          The more limited our co-operation the more limited our vision, and that is fully down to us.

        • Aidan says:

          By the way Lloyd Allan, a great quote from Albert Maysles and so relevant to the point you were making!

          • Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

            Aidan, the only hesitation I have posting on this site is that it is an investment of my time and energy. I truly hope all of you stand for the kind of connectedness we all truly need in the world. This connectedness in terms of an “association” has not been kind, historically. When people organize, sometimes that’s all they do. When it comes time to act, and aggressively move forward, you have to stop organizing and begin to rely on your own personal strengths to carry you through to your end-game goals. If you are not constantly moving towards your end-game goals, then you are just organizing and will probably do nothing more than that. Better things are out there and I hope that all efforts are made to recognize those who are doing more than their share of pushing the forward movement. If there is one person in your midst who doesn’t feel like they are getting full support, then that’s an issue – I hope I never feel this way about the ACI or the ACP for that matter. That’s a huge responsibility on your shoulders and bear it well, my friends/brothers/sisters. God bless you.

          • Aidan says:

            Lloyd Allan, if you are saying that the Association of Catholics in Ireland needs to move beyond ‘Association’ and into action, what action, in addition to what is already being done, would you suggest and how should ACI go about taking it? I think its organisers would find your suggestions helpful, along with those of others members and bloggers.

            I would suggest it is more helpful if we all say what each of us who is concerned about the future of the Catholic Church is prepared to do, either individually or collectively, rather than what ‘the other’ should be doing. I look forward to your suggestions.

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