At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Thoughts on Gay Marriage II

posted by Jack Kerwick

The partisan weighing in on the issue of so-called “gay marriage” has one simple choice to make. On the one hand, he can choose to either join the consensus of the vast majority of people who have ever lived by choosing to preserve the exclusively heterosexual character of marriage.  On the other hand, he can choose to cast his vote in favor of the “enlightened” preferences of a minority of his contemporaries who seek to re-imagine marriage by transforming it into a bi-sexual institution.

Being a relatively low risk taker, my money is on the wisdom of the species.

Many of the most outspoken critics of “gay marriage” are certain that the decision to permit gays to “marry” promises to undermine marriage.  I do not share their certitude. 

So-called “gay marriage” may weaken institutional marriage—or it may not.  The point, though, is that precisely because we cannot know for sure how the adoption of such a revolutionary, historically unprecedented measure like “gay marriage” will impact this hallowed, socially indispensable institution—or any other aspect of our lives—prudence and humility counsel us to submit to the teachings of our ancestors on this score.  

Marriage, though of crucial import, is but one institution in a complex of institutions.  This much we know for sure: a change as radical in nature as that of “gay marriage” most certainly will have an impact, not just on marriage, but upon the web of institutions of which marriage is a component.  The very fabric of our culture will be altered—even if it is quite a while before we determine either the nature or even the existence of the alteration.

In the interests of fairness, however, it needs to be said that “gay marriage” does not appear as likely to deleteriously affect marriage and the family as other forms of conduct that we, as a society, have long since sanctioned.  Moreover, because of these other trends, it seems to me that the case against “gay marriage” is itself on extremely perilous ground.

In a “state of nature”—a pre-political or pre-social condition—there would be no marriage.  Marriage is a legal entity, a social institution.  As such, it exists for the sake, not of procuring satisfactions for those who marry, but, rather, civilizing the married and their offspring.

In the past, marriage has been viewed almost exclusively as the means by which the species can be propagated and educated.  As the early nineteenth century conservative theorist Louis de Bonald put the matter: “The production of man is the purpose of the relationship between the sexes; his conservation is the purpose of the relationship between the ages, which is to say that man and woman produce the child, and the father and mother conserve it.”  And there is no doubt that the production and nurturance of children remain critical reasons for society’s need to preserve and strengthen marriage.

But in the past, in advance of marriage, there was no way to determine whether prospective spouses were capable of producing children.  Today, obviously, there are.  Among such methods is the now commonplace practice of pre-marital sex.  Thus, not only have we long permitted non-marital sexual activity; for just as long, we have permitted marriage between couples who are either incapable of or unwilling to have children. 

My point here is not to criticize either of these practices.  Instead, I seek only to show that well before anyone ever dreamt up “gay marriage,” heterosexuals had done much to deprive the classical justification for marriage articulated by de Bonald of much of its force. 

Of course, the argument that marriage is a great civilizing institution remains sound.  

Marriage demands and encourages the cultivation of a host of virtues: honesty, fidelity, patience, forbearance, perseverance, temperance, humility, and, selflessness are some of the more salient human excellences that it promotes.  Ideally, marriage should endure through sickness and health, better and worse. 

And it should last until death.

But the ease with which we grant divorce and the frequency with which couples avail themselves of it has rendered this ideal of marriage that much more remote. For many, marriage has become but another relationship of convenience.

It becomes increasingly difficult to argue that “gay marriage” is impermissible while permitting pre-marital sex, illegitimate births, cohabitation, and no fault divorce. If “gay marriage” should be forbidden because it threatens to weaken marriage and the family, then pre-marital sex, illegitimacy, cohabitation, and divorce must be forbidden as well.  In fact, inasmuch as homosexuals claim to want to marry, the latter activities appear to pose a much clearer and more imminent threat to marriage. 

Conservatives in the past were well aware of this.  Take the eighteenth century German thinker Justus Moser, for instance. Moser authored a brief essay entitled, On the Diminished Disgrace of Whores and Their Children in Our Day.  In it, he writes that since “matrimony is always a highly important means to check vice and preserve virtue,” states must appropriate those measures that make this institution inviting while eschewing those that marginalize it. 

This being so, “It is impolitic to give the children of whores the same honor as the legitimately born, since by so doing one destroys one of the strongest incentives for marriage.”  Moser makes frequent references to “our ancestors, who were guided by experience rather than by theories [.]”  Past generations stigmatized illegitimate children, not because the children themselves did anything that warranted unequal treatment, but because they sought “to reserve all honor and all civic benefits for matrimony, in order to encourage it.”

It is not my intention here to argue for or against “gay marriage.”  Nor is it my intention to argue for or against the criminalization, or even stigmatization, of non-marital sex, divorce, illegitimacy, or anything else.

My objective is simpler than this: I want to bring to the reader’s attention the fact that the enemies of “gay marriage” must do better than they currently have if they want to sound convincing, for they have allowed the development of trends that weaken, not just traditional heterosexual marriage, but their own case for traditional, heterosexual marriage.     

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D. 

 

Thoughts on “Gay Marriage”

posted by Jack Kerwick

Joe Biden and Barack Obama have finally expressed what many of us, friend and foe alike, have long known is their real position on the contentious issue of “same sex marriage”: President and Vice President alike favor it. All that matters, Biden says, is that two people love one another.

Notice, from the perspective of the Bidens and Obamas of the world, the opponents of “gay marriage” are guilty of arbitrariness (and worse) insofar as they insist on defining marriage in heterosexual terms.  Yet Obama, Biden, and their ilk should attend to their own glass houses before they cast stones at the homes of others: if the criterion of heterosexuality vis-à-vis marriage is “arbitrary,” then how much more arbitrary are their criteria of monogamy and love. 

Although we are accustomed to thinking of marriage along the lines of both monogamy and love, there are numerous others who are not so inclined.  Historically, polygamy has been the rule around most of the globe.  Even today, a not insignificant percentage of the Earth’s population continues to opt for this ancient marital arrangement.  And love—love!—has been regarded by most human beings as a woefully inadequate basis upon which to root a lifelong commitment.

For that matter, the self-avowed champions of “same sex marriage” demand that marriage be limited to only those individuals who are not related.  Why?  Is not this an arbitrary requirement, especially when it is considered that, again, most societies have permitted marriage between blood relations?

But at no place, and at no time, has marriage been understood as anything but a heterosexual union.   Given that the champions of “gay marriage” wish to mark a radical departure from a universal and timeless practice by imposing upon marriage a homosexual character, the burden is upon them to convince the rest of us that this is something other than a fool’s errand. 

Contrary to what radicals would have us believe, the wish to preserve the heterosexual nature of marriage doesn’t need to be anchored to any religious sensibility.  An aversion to radical change, an aversion born out by painful familiarity with the innovator’s abysmal record, is enough to render anyone skeptical regarding the proposal to restructure marriage so as to accommodate homosexuals.

Let me be clear as to what I am and am not saying here.

First, “bigotry” is presumably immoral because “the bigot” makes arbitrary—i.e. “irrational”—judgments in contexts where sheer preferences have no place.  Since marriage has always and everywhere been treated as an inherently heterosexual union, those of us who want to continue regarding it as such are less “bigoted” than any partisan on this topic. That is to say, we aren’t “bigoted” at all—at least not in respect to this issue.

Hence, whatever else can be said about the charge of “homophobia” that the friends of “gay marriage” level against their rivals, we can safely say that it is most certainly not justified.

Secondly, that marriage has been defined heterosexually by all peoples in all places and at all times does not necessarily mean that “gay marriage” should be outlawed.  Rather, by alluding to the universality of the heterosexual requirement for marriage, we accomplish two ends.  In addition to showing that it is the proponents of “gay marriage,” not its opponents, who are arbitrary and capricious, we show as well that the conflict over marriage boils down to a conflict between the experience of the entire human race—“the general bank and capital of nations, and of ages,” as Burke said—and a minority of our contemporaries. 

Of course, that the apologists for “gay marriage” are overwhelmed in numbers by their opponents is not proof that they are mistaken.  Truth may very well be on their side.  But at the very least, appeal to the experience of the human species constitutes a prima facie case against “gay marriage.” 

To quote the mighty Burke once more, by looking at our present institutional arrangements as a legacy of the past, “an entailed inheritance derived to us from our forefathers, and to be transmitted to our posterity,” we strike upon the means by which “our constitution preserves an unity in so great a diversity of its parts” (emphasis original).   

The problem with proposed changes of the magnitude implied by “gay marriage” is that they threaten to come at the cost of squandering our “inheritance.”

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D. 

 

 

 

 

 

The Christian and Fame

posted by Jack Kerwick

Among non-Christian and nominal Christians alike, there exists a misconception regarding Christians that is as pervasive as it is erroneous.  In fact, it is downright invidious. 

Christians, according to this falsehood, are morally unassailable—if, that is, their faith is genuine.  To the extent, then, that self-avowed Christians reveal themselves to be susceptible to the same flaws as all other human beings, they are so many “hypocrites” and “frauds.” 

This line of thought is beyond a misconception.  It is nothing short of a lie.  And like any other lie, it is a function of rank ignorance. 

It is precisely because of the Christian’s painful, even agonizing, awareness of his many vices that he is a Christian.  It is for the sake of the ill that Christ the Physician came to Earth.  Each and every Christian church the world over is a hospital, an emergency ward, where those who are sick can seek nourishment any and every day of the year.

As my own beloved pastor has often put it, the Christian Church is a church of sinners.  It is most emphatically not a church of saints.

Of course, none of this means that Christ doesn’t summon His disciples to Godliness.  The Christian has no option but to render his life a standing repudiation of evil in all of its guises.  And he knows, although he not infrequently forgets, that the one instance of evil from which he can never escape, the one he sees every time he retreats from the world into himself, is the most difficult for him to counter.

But at least the Christian knows as much.  His secular counterpart who spares no occasion to participate in one demonstration or other, the activist who never tires of trying to drag the world, kicking and screaming, as it were, into the Promised Land of his own imaginings, is utterly blind to his own conceit: he actually believes that so great is his virtue that he can “fundamentally transform” the planet.

The activist sees evil.  Yet it is always—and only—the evil of others upon whom he sets his sights.  This, though, is what we should expect, given that by his own lights, the activist is a bottomless fount of virtue: he is free from all vice.

The Christian, in stark contrast, knows just how ridden with sin he is.  The doctrine of Original Sin to which he subscribes isn’t just a doctrine: it is a concrete reality with which he has to live day in and day out.  Utterances and deeds of which non-Christians, and possibly even nominal Christians, will think nothing, the Christian recognizes for the instances of evil that they are. 

Take, for example, the desire for popularity, for fame, that lurks within most of us—and especially within those of us who aspire to be commentators.

Recently, I met up with some new friends in New York City.  They asked me what I expected to gain from working within this profession—the writing profession.  The question hit home.  Of course, not unlike any other aspiring commentator, it is fame that I seek. Yet I also know that the desire for fame for fame’s sake, or for the sake of gratifying the ego of the fame seeker, is forbidden by my Christian faith.

As they say, fame is fleeting.  The person who anchors his happiness in fame is like the captain of a ship who tries to dock his vessel in quicksand.  People may be interested in you today, but being the fickle creatures that they are, they will lose interest in you tomorrow.  Granted, the fame of one person may last longer or shorter than that of another, but in any and every case, fame is finite. As such, it is corruptible.

Fame is corruptible in the sense that it will not last.  But it is also a source of corruption.  The person who craves fame is in danger of corrupting his own character, for he is constantly tempted to do anything to achieve or maintain it.  And when fame depends upon satisfying the prejudices of people who are cognitively and/or morally challenged to begin with, there are no lengths to which the lover of fame will not be tempted to go.  That ours is the Age of Reality Television and Social Media should alone suffice to dispel all doubts regarding the truth of this observation.

While the pursuit of fame is a morally hazardous affair, one may object, the fame seeker need not necessarily compromise either his intellect or his virtue to secure his prize.  This is, of course, correct.  Yet to this objection there are three quick replies in the coming.

First, that the seeker of fame may emerge from his engagement unscathed is indeed a possibility.  But this is the point: it is only a possibility.  It is far more probable that in winning the contest to which he set himself, he will lose goods—like integrity—of far greater value.

Second, there is a reason for why the ancients numbered wisdom among the cardinal human excellences.  The wise man recognizes that while every choice is a gamble of a sort, there are certain courses of action to which the man of wisdom won’t look twice (or even once).  Any choice that stands a better chance than not of reducing him from a good man to a bad man is one that he will labor mightily to avoid making. 

Finally, whether pursuing fame will corrupt his character or not is ultimately beside the point for the person of Christian faith.  Insofar he pursues fame for his own sake, he acts as immorally—as impiously—as he would be guilty of acting had he pursued any other thing for his own sake. 

For that matter, if the Christian pursues anything for the sake of anything other than God, he acts impiously.   

This, then, is the point to which it all boils down: it is permissible for the Christian—it is permissible for me—to pursue as wide a hearing as possible—i.e. “fame”—for my ideas as long as it is for the sake of glorifying God.  The commentator’s enterprise is certainly not a questionable one; in fact, ideally, the commentator contributes greatly to the health of his society.  But if it is for the sake of exaggerating his own sense of self-importance that he does his thing, then, from the Christian’s standpoint, he stands condemned.        

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D. 

 

“Racism,” Liberty, and Evil

posted by Jack Kerwick

Race-relations have intrigued me from at least the time I was a young teenager.  Since I started writing four years ago, I have written my share of essays on this topic—including essays in which I sail unchartered waters by subjecting the notion of “racism” to interrogation. 

Recently, to my surprise, an editor for one of the sites for which I write decided to pass on publishing my latest submission.  In this article, I argue both that “racism” is not the unitary concept that typical usage of the term suggests, and that none of the mutually distinct conceptions of “racism”—none of the “racisms”—succeeds in showing how or why “racism” is the especially horrible thing that we treat it as.

My editor chose to pass on it because, he contended, it lends itself all too easily to being read as coming dangerously close to sanctioning “racism.” In other words, in arguing that “racism” is not the Mother of all Abominations that our political orthodoxy would have us believe it is, I imply that it is not an abomination at all.  “Racism” is an evil, my editor assured me, because it is a species of “collectivism,” and all expressions of “collectivism” deny the worth of the individual.    

My editor is a good man, a friend, who has always been generous to me.  That being said, he was mistaken on a couple of scores.

The purpose of my article was not to suggest that “racism” isn’t evil.  Nor, for that matter, did it mean to imply that “racism” is evil.  I simply wanted to do what no one, shockingly, has thought to do: I wanted to pull back the proverbial curtain on a word that inspires unprecedented fear.  I wanted to determine whether this fear was warranted.  My article was meant to be descriptive, not normative.  Just as an analysis of the concept of God does not necessarily reflect belief or disbelief in God, so neither should my analysis of “racism” be read as a function of my own attitude toward it.

Furthermore, it may or may not be true that “racism” is an evil because it is a form of “collectivism.’  This is because it may or may not be true that it is properly classified as a specimen of “collectivism.” 

“Collectivism,” not unlike virtually every other ingredient of our political-moral vocabulary, is anything but an unambiguous term.  A collectivity is a group.  Presumably, when our focus is on the collectivity, it is set upon something that is supposed to be greater than its individual members.  So, according to my editor, “racism” is evil because if “the racist” sees the individual at all, it is only inasmuch as the individual is a member of the collectivity known as race.

To this line of reasoning, a few quick replies are in order.

First, if “racism” is evil because it is a form of “collectivism,” then my thesis remains in tact, for it isn’t “racism” as such that is the Mother of All Evils, but “collectivism.”  That “collectivism,” in this instance, happens to possess a racial character is irrelevant.

Second, the line between “collectivism” and “individualism” is not nearly as hard and fast as this objection indicates.  Marxism is regarded by self-avowed “individualists” as the prototypical version of “collectivism,” yet even Marxists deny that they are collectivists.  It is indeed the individual who the Marxist wants to protect and strengthen.  The difference, though, between the Marxist’s idea of the individual and that of the libertarian is the difference between their respective thoughts on “freedom,” “liberty,” “equality,” and “justice.” 

For the Marxist, liberty, equality and the rest are substantive.  Justice requires that there exists an equal and, thus, equitable, distribution of material and “social” resources so that liberty can be a reality for each and every person.  For the libertarian, in stark contrast, liberty, equality, and justice are procedural.  Resources are to be earned or otherwise acquired—most definitely not supplied by the government.

The point, though, is that, theoretically at least, the individual is as much valued by Marxism as by libertarianism. 

Third, while the libertarian is certainly entitled to question the Marxist’s understanding of the individual and “individualism,” before he casts stones he should make sure that his own house isn’t made of glass.  Is it really the case that any of us ever see just the individual?  After all, “the individual” is an abstraction.  In actuality, what we encounter—even when we look in the mirror—are complex, concrete beings with distinctive histories and experiences.  It is impossible to make sense of our world—indeed, it is impossible to coherently speak of the world (i.e. a single, self-continuous reality)—in the absence of categories according to which we can classify its limitless phenomena.    

The libertarian, no less than anyone else, navigates his way through life by means of categories.  When he makes a claim, like, “We are all Americans,” he sees the collectivity—America—before he sees the 300,000,000 or so individuals who compose America.  When the libertarian affirms patriotism as a virtue, whether he realizes this or not, he casts his vote for something that a certain sort of “collectivist” will just as readily embrace.  The reason is simple: the country to which the patriot pledges his loyalty is the collectivity to which his own interests will now be subordinated.

“Racism” may very well be a meaningful term, and it may well be an evil, but until we determine exactly what “collectivism” is, we would be well served to avoid linking the former to the latter.  An investigation of “collectivism” is due first.  For that matter, we need to revisit the term “individualism” as well.

Let me say, finally, that while I put the concept of “racism” on the hot seat, I have not and would not think to deny either the reality or the awfulness of inter-racial cruelty. The thing of it is, though, is that I abhor cruelty whether it is inter-racial or intra-racial.  And I abhor it regardless of the racial backgrounds of the perpetrators and victims. 

As a Christian, I have an obligation to God to renounce “Satan and all of his works.”  For this reason, to say nothing of my own devotion to liberty, I am committed to using all of my resources to the end of retiring the agents of the Racism Industrial Complex (RIC) once and for all.  All of us are all too familiar with RIC. Its agents are those peculiar creatures who seem to exist for the sole purpose of discovering “racism” in every nook and cranny of American life. 

While some of its more naïve agents doubtless believe that they are doing good work, its veterans know by now the many benefits to be had from furthering their industry.  They know as well thatAmerica’s white majority lives in perpetual, paralyzing fear of being charged with “racism.”  There is no single accusation other than that of “racism” that most white Americans dread as much.  And RIC agents continue to exploit this fear for all that they can—regardless of the cost in bloodshed at which it has come.

RIC agents, like those who are either demanding George Zimmerman’s head on a platter, or those in the media who have labored inexhaustibly to provoke them to demand Zimmerman’s head, are guilty of evil.  They are evil, or at least it is true that they act evilly, because they could care less whether Zimmerman is really culpable of any crime.

RIC agents are concerned only with advancing the mission of RIC—the mission of exposing and combating “racism” (white “racism,” to be exact).  And since this in turn requires stoking the belief that “racism” not only continues to endure, but that it is ubiquitous, instances of “racism” must be invented.  As the specific case of Zimmerman proves, RIC agents have reached a point at which they feel the need to invent whites, for just a brief glance at Zimmerman reveals him to be a Hispanic.

The threat posed to our liberties by “anti-racists” is much larger than any posed by “racists.”  In the name of combating “racism,” our professional “anti-racists” have managed to transform America from a civil association—an association of laws specifying liberties—to an association of a fundamentally different kind—what the philosopher Michael Oakeshott referred to as an “enterprise association.” 

Thanks to our “anti-racists,” our laws have largely been replaced by policies, instrumental devices designed for the sake of advancing the goal, not of justice, but of “racial or social justice.”

For as unpleasant as he finds it, the Christian and the lover of liberty must—he must—spare no occasion to reckon with the evil of the Racism Industrial Complex for what it is.  If not, evil will prevail and liberty will continue to vanish.   

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

 

 

 

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