It worries me how little some people understand of theology when they try to make religious arguments

Over at Liberal Conspiracy we have a Catholic trying to make a religious argument in favour of gay marriage.

I think there are excellent arguments in favour of gay marriage (not least they should be allowed to be as miserable as all us heteros). I think there are even better arguments in favour of a single civil marriage for anyone who wants it with you and whoever having a further religious ceremony from whomever you would like or none and from whomever will have you.

Hoever, trying to argue from within Catholicism for gay marriage doesn\’t really work because of the underlying theology of sex itself. As I explain in this comment over there:

\”What is a non-bigoted argument against gay marriage that actually holds logic?\”

I most certainly don\’t say that you have to agree with this logic (I don\’t myself, despite a Cathoilic upbringing and education) but this is the underlying logic of the Catholic attitude towards sex (not surprisingly, it\’s remarkably similar to traditional Judaic law as well and there are many similarities with Islamic).

Sex must always be open to the possibility of conception.

And that, pretty much, is it. If you really pin down the explanation of it all that is. I\’ve not seen this stated quite so bluntly by a Catholic authority, but I have seen it written by a Rabbi and also an Imam.

Anal sex, oral sex, these things are just fine. If that\’s what turns the parties on, mutually, why the hell not? Sex is fun, it\’s very definitely a gift from God. But such anal, oral, frotting, handjobs, tit rubs, whatever you want to think of, are only allowable as long as the actual male orgasm happens where conception is possible. This was the sin of Onan recall, coitus interruptus.

Now, given that only a woman can get pregnant and only get pregnant if ejaculation takes place at least vaguely in the region of her genitals then the only morally and righteously allowable form of sex is where ejaculation takes place at least vaguely in the region of a woman\’s genitals.

As I say, that\’s pretty much it as the basis to the whole thing.

You can disagree with the premise (I do myself) but that is what the premise is that then leads to all of the other restrictions. The restriction on contraception, to gay sex itself. That sin of Onan again.

Of course, when the premise is accepted (and as I say, it is at the heart of the Catholic theology of sex however much all of us Catholics, nominal, practising or non believing like myself ignore it or disagree with it) then the very concept of gay marriage beomes unthinkable. For marriage is a public recognition of devoting oneself to a sexual relationship (the marriage ceremony really does say \”I thee with my body shall worship\”) and how can that happen with a sexual relationship where conception is not possible and thus is not a moral or righteous sexual relationship?

Just to repeat myself again. I don\’t find this convincing either. But it is an explanation of that underlying religious argument and it is indeed believed to be true by many.

You can only argue from within Catholicism in favour of gay marriage if you are to reject the Church\’s basic teachings about sex. At which point, you\’re not really making a Catholic argument, are you?

28 comments on “It worries me how little some people understand of theology when they try to make religious arguments

  1. “Church’s basic teachings about sex”

    From a cult run by celibate virginal old men.

    Also, given the over population of the planet isn’t it time this cult was told to p!ss off with it’s “make more Catholics” teachings.

    Tim adds: You seem to be missing the point being made. It isn’t that this premise is true: just that that is what the premise is.

  2. Gays need to organise their own Christian schism… just like the Mormons, Amish and many others did when they no longer agreed with the established church.

  3. I have to wonder what the government’s agenda is here. I mean, if the government are passing a law to make it illegal for churches to refuse to marry gay people then surely, by extension it will be illegal for other places of worship to deny gays the right to marry in say a mosque or a Sikh temple?

  4. Except, Henry Crun, that that is not what the government is proposing. There will be absolutely no compulsion for any church to marry gays.

  5. “From a cult run by celibate virginal old men”: that would be nice.

    “There will be absolutely no compulsion for any church to marry gays.” Yet.

  6. You refer to the sin of Onan. Would it not be possible to argue (from within Catholicism) that Onan was punished by God because of his disobedience, and not because he spilled the seed wastefully?

  7. The idea that sex, and by extension marriage, is only for procreation has never stopped the catholic church from allowing post-menopausal or post-hysterectomy or otherwise infertile women and men from getting married. If a gay couple has the mindset that “if God brings a child into our lives, we will be joyful and care for it”, then they meet the same theological criteria as an infertile couple. The catholic church isn’t really in a position to base its beliefs on the science of conception!

  8. Tim

    Catholic doctrine no longer says that married sex has to be open to the possibility of conception. Canon 1084.3 “sterility neither forbids nor invalidates a marriage”. (The amusingly named ‘Cum Frequenter’ has been superseded.)

  9. If gay marriage is legislated for, then the effect of the 2010 Equality Act is that the churches (including mosques and synagogues and the rest) will be forced to celebrate gay marriages should they be challenged because – as far as I can see (and am happy to be corrected) – there is no legislative proposal to exempt the religious bodies from the Equality Act’s provisions.

    Cameron’s “assurances” mean diddly squat.

    Now that would be an interesting battle. While the state can legally define marriage how it wants – the idea that it should in effect tell churches how to define it is a step too far, in my view.

    Not because of the gay marriage issue but because it is extending the state’s remit into areas which should not be its concern: what people want to believe.

    It seems to me that should this proposal go through there will inevitably be a challenge to the religious authorities so would it not be best to clarify what the vague phrases “churches won’t be forced to marry gays” actually means and how this will be legislated for.

  10. Possibility of conception (for the RC Church) is the condition for sex without it being sinful, not the condition for marriage.

    (However sex must take place in a marriage for the marriage to be valid – if it does not it is grounds for annulment.)

    It is the basis for the Church’s objection to artificial contraception and why the Rhythm method and coitus interruptus are allowable, neither being reliable, in the latter case because sperm is always present at the end of the urethra so impregnation is possible with penetration even without ejaculation.

    As for sterility, etc conception is still a possibility if it is “God’s will” because “with God all things are possible”.

    It is worth remembering that Mary conceived without a penis, testes and sperm being involved, so not having a womb is no obstacle for getting pregnant if it is the will of Big G.

  11. John B: “with God all things are possible”, therefore two (apparent) men could conceive a baby together if He so wishes. So what’s the objection to gay marriage again?

    And are you saying that the Church considers artificial contraception to be entirely reliable? If so, would they changed their minds about its use if it could be demonstrated that some people get pregnant when using it?

  12. PaulB, you’re confusing things here.

    A marriage is not invalidated or forbidden by sterility is very different from the concept that prevention of conception by any other means than abstention is forbidden. Back when those rules were made, people didn’t even know why someone was barren (or indeed who was) or how long it would last, they simply assumed it was God’s will, and that was that. (Remember, Henry the 8th was having certain issues with this… :)

    diogenes: One of the fundamental teachings is that the old testament which he is quoting was explicitly superseded by the New Testament(google is your friend here).

    Also, people seem to think that Catholicism is a democracy where believers get to define the meaning of scripture as they see it — the term for this behaviour is called ‘heresy’ and officially it’s a sin, see here: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07256b.htm and generally what kicks off a new schism in Christianity if there is a critical mass of adherents.

    Maybe we should hold compulsory bible studies in gay bars, just so we get to a situation where everyone knows what they are actually talking about and we can finally start a meaningful discussion 8():

  13. PaulB (#9), true, but impotence still does invalidate marriage:
    Canon 1084.1:
    “antecedent and perpetual impotence to have intercourse, whether on the part of the man or the woman … nullifies marriage by its very nature.”

    It’s improbable vs impossible. Infertility is rarely absolute, and even the menopause is technically a matter of levels of hormone rather than an absolute cut-off. But conception between two men?

  14. Hexe

    So you claim to be a better theologian than the former head of the Dominican Order. Good for you. My only interest in this discussion is to point out that a senior Catholic theologian has in fact made a statement about gay marriage being impossible in his faith. So it is unlikely that google will be my friend, although I thank you for your condescension.

  15. Tim said “I’ve not seen this stated quite so bluntly by a Catholic authority”

    Catechism of the Catholic Church:
    para. 2357 , homosexual acts “close the sexual act to the gift of life” and so “under no circumstances can they be approved.”

    (it also gives other reasons why the Church believes it to be wrong, but the ‘no possibility of conception’ is explicit)

  16. A woman without neither womb nor ovaries has exactly the same chance of bearing a child as a similarly ill-equipped man: none. If the criterion is the possibility of child-bearing then it is plainly illogical to hold that one should be permitted to marry a man and not the other.

    Of course, the Church like any other religion should be allowed to make its own rules: if it wishes to declare that the pope is the ultimate authority and that God has appeared to him in a burning cassock and declared that man shall not marry man then it is no business of mine to argue with it. But let’s not pretend that its rules follow from some ineluctable logic.

    Equally, it is not for the Roman Catholic Church to say who should be allowed to marry whom in a civil ceremony or in any other religion.

  17. “Hexe

    So you claim to be a better theologian than the former head of the Dominican Order. Good for you. My only interest in this discussion is to point out that a senior Catholic theologian has in fact made a statement about gay marriage being impossible in his faith. So it is unlikely that google will be my friend, although I thank you for your condescension”

    Nice try, but if you want to use the old argumentum ad verecundiam trick, I can go one better :)

    Take note that the Pope definitely pulls rank on the man here and certainly has more knowledge AND authority than your champion. So there :)

    In the first part of the article he is toeing the official line, but the second part is certainly not ‘pope approved’ and also quite an astonishing attack on the Vatican:

    “To date the Vatican is the only country in the western world that has refused to sign the U.N. declaration that decriminalizes homosexuality. Remember there remain many countries today that jail or execute homosexuals. At the same time the Vatican claims that same-sex unions as a marriage devalues the unique identity and social contributions of the union of a man and a woman. How any loving couple’s sexual behaviour is affected the marriage of a heterosexual or homosexual is yet to be explained by anyone from the Vatican. At the same time it is obvious that the Vatican has a very limited or poor understanding of what constitutes a `traditional marriage`. Here are just a few biblical examples that were obviously overlooked by Archbishop Silvano Tomasi. For example Abraham, Jacob all had concubines. Solomon it is said had more than 300. Genesis 16 tells us that a married man could acquire his wife`s property including her slaves. Nor were many biblical heroes exempt from polygamy. Esau and Jacob shared several wives, while Solomon enjoyed more than 700. Genesis 38:6-10 reveals that a widow who had not borne a son was required to marry her brother in law, and must submit sexually to her new husband. Deuteronomy 22:28-29 shares that a virgin who is raped must marry her rapist. However the rapist must pay victim`s father 50 shekels of silver for property loss. Numbers 31:1-18 and Deuteronomy 21:11-14 announce that under Moses` command Israelites were to kill every ‘Midianite man, woman and child, save for the virgin girls who are taken as spoil of war. Again, wives must submit sexually to their new owners. Exodus21:4 explains that a slave owner could assign female slaves to his male slaves. Female slaves must submit sexually to their new husbands. Does that mean that anything goes? For me the traditional form, man and women continues provide and exist within a very loving, wonderful and fulfilling family. However, the recent message from Benedict XVI on same- sex marriage appears obsessively focussed on that of St. Augustine and his tormented attitude toward sexuality. Finally, is a heterosexual marriage any more or any less fragile than that of a homosexual couple? Are the children of a heterosexual couple more loved and cared for than by a homosexual couple?”

    Looks to me like the gay Christian schism has found it’s true shepherd in this man, so… do us all a favour, rent or borrow a church(plenty spare ones around), open up your very own Godshop, stfu & get praying and preaching as you like in your very own way and show us how it’s done ‘properly’. The ‘winner’ can easily be determined by occupied pew count I guess :)

    It truly is a strange time when atheist posters called ‘Hexe’ end up defending the Catholics churches’ right to believe what they want. (oh well, there is my ‘get out of hell free’ card, whatever…)

  18. Anyone know the %age/any numbers of these gay peoples who want to be “married” in church? Or are they all beach wedding types?

  19. How about this as a proposition? If you try to base sexual ethics on the “natural law”, it just doesn’t work. Just doesn’t work with the various combinations of post menopausal women, infertile men, sexual acts that have limited chances of procreation. I haven’t even started on homosexual acts or affectionate acts between heterosexual couples . Nor is it clear why the “natural law” seems to apply to sex only – man was obviously not designed to play cricket, but as yet the catholic church, if not the Taliban, has so far allowed us to play.

    I’m not for against the original post, I just think the “natural law” is silly.

  20. In these weak piping times of peace you seem biased against being a bigot.
    After all a bigot stands against the winds of crowd predjudice , fashionable whims and temporary infatuation.
    And you are discussing only catholicism because you might get a bomb wih other more robust ideologies.

  21. The adherents of any organised religion are, of course, free to lobby for changes to their doctrine and practices. But it is nonsensical to demand that any of their precepts conform to any rational principle. Religions are not rational. They get to disappoint us. We get to ignore and lampoon them.
    And under no circumstances should the state ever get entangled in the details of doctrine. The decision of the Prime Minister to pronounce on the wearing of crosses by christians is simply baffling. Since when did he have the authority to do that? As an analogy, imagine the Catholic Womens League announcing an increase in VAT, or the Jockey Club repealing the sale of goods act.

  22. Hexe (#18), the part that you quote is not byFr Timothy Radcliffe, but is a post by a commentator using the pen-name ‘Trebert’.

    Fr Timothy’s article stops at the line under his name; after that are the comments by generally witless readers.

    Unfortunately the Tablet’s website does not divide the article from the comments in the clear way that this blog does, but if you scroll down to the end you will see that comments are put above the author’s name, not under.

    I suspect that Fr Timothy would be horrified that you might have believed either the substance or the style of that comment to be his.

  23. As an analogy, imagine the Catholic Womens League announcing an increase in VAT, or the Jockey Club repealing the sale of goods act.

    Or the Church preventing Sunday trading. Oh, wait…

  24. Scohn(#6) – off-topic, but you are correct. The sin of Onan was not the act of spilling his seed: it was refusing to get his dead brother’s wife pregnant and to make “an honest woman of her,” as was the custom in many nomadic tribal Middle Eastern societies of the time. The sanctions for a woman who was not “kept in the family” in such a way were horrendous.

    In fact, ultimately – I’ve heard it argued – his sin was selfishness without thought on the effect his act would have on others, and was not disobedience nor failing to conform to custom. His refusal put his dead brother’s wife in a legal no-man’s-land with no protection.

  25. “The adherents of any organised religion are, of course, free to lobby for changes to their doctrine and practices. But it is nonsensical to demand that any of their precepts conform to any rational principle. ”

    As pretty well all of the religious doctrines surrounding marriage are attempts to nurture offspring & preserve their inheritance & security in whatever culture obtained at the time there’s nothing irrational about them. Yes, even dowries & regarding a bride as a chattel. In a world where the ‘law’ is a strong right arm holding a sword, a woman & her children are safer being the property of her husband rather than having freedoms that she’s no way of defending & maintaining.
    This whole civil partnership/ same sex marriage business is nothing but an attempt to hijack the very few protections still left in our law for that purpose. The various references to childless marriages/infertility etc above are actually looking at the earliest attempts at this hijacking. Originally, marriage was purely about the nurturing of offspring. The uniting of two families so the children had two sets of assurance rather than just the one. Hence a childless marriage was invalid.
    Just for once, it is all about the baybees.

  26. I’m not Catholic. I’m an atheist. So I probably don’t understand the theology. But a vital point is, Catholics regard marriage as a sacrament – the sacred joining of the male and female. It’s not just a contract. Janet and John may fall in love and decide to get married. But strictly speaking, it’s God who brings them together. And those whom God hath joined together, let no man rend asunder. That’s why divorce is problematic in Catholicism. Divorce means not just that Janet or John made a mistake. It means God made a mistake. See the problem?

    Islam has a very different view of marriage. It’s purely a contract, not a sacrament. It can involve up to five parties (but only one of them male). And divorce can be incredibly quick, if initiated by the man.

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