Tom Gilson

Two Steps From Reasonable About Marriage

Stephen Heaney at Public Discourse: Two Steps From Reasonable About Marriage. Good reading for anyone who has ever doubted marriage and child-bearing belong together.

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19 thoughts on “Two Steps From Reasonable About Marriage

  1. From the article:

    Fourth, now that they see what their bodies and urges are for, the members of the community understand that their earlier acts were in fact an improper use of their bodies and a misplacement of their longings.

    Can someone present the argument in support of that fourth point? I assume I’m not being generous when I present it like this:

    – Act A, when performed by people A (male-male or female-female), does not make babies.
    – Act A’, when performed by people B (male-female), makes babies (at least sometimes).
    – Therefore, Act A performed by people A is wrong, or “improper.”

  2. Brap,

    Aren’t you leaving out the entire point of the thought experiment and viewing the above in isolation. When Act A was simply a pleasurable exchange it was not especially significant to the community nor did exclusivity or nonexclusively of those performing Act A change the dynamics of the community. When Act A produced children it radically changed the community dynamics and the perception of Act A. When the community realized that Act A produced children it enlightened the community to the reality and importance of Act A. Thus, male-male or female-female Act A was shown to be “improper”.

    (And I think “improper” in this case can be understood as not in keeping with the original intent of Act A.)

  3. Aren’t you leaving out the entire point of the thought experiment and viewing the above in isolation.

    Yes.

    So, is the argument for the author’s fourth point that sex acts which cannot result in children are improper? If so, let’s take a thought experiment where there are males and females, and they only pleasure each other in male-female pairs. Somehow they’ve only learned to do this in ways that do not result in children, such as inserting the male organ in slot A or B of the female (but not slot C), or by the male manually stimulating slot C of the female.

    Assuming they eventually figure out how to produce children, would they then realize those previously used methods of pleasuring their partner are improper? Would you prefer they stop using those other methods, or does putting them in the category of foreplay make them ok?

  4. It really comes down to ‘what is the fundamental reason for male and female?’ Who can really doubt that the complementary natures and functions of the male and female anatomies is the design (allow me the teleology) norm?

  5. “So, is the argument for the author’s fourth point that sex acts which cannot result in children are improper?”

    No. I already explained that. But you seem to be intent on putting the most tortured explanation possible to this and ignoring both what the author and I have said so, have at it.

  6. BillT, when you write this:

    When the community realized that Act A produced children it enlightened the community to the reality and importance of Act A. Thus, male-male or female-female Act A was shown to be “improper”.

    I can definitely understand that Act A is important because it produces children. No disagreement there. I’ll even grant that Act A between members of the same sex is not important at all, since it only produces pleasure, not children. But I don’t see how it follows that Act A between members of the same sex is improper, simply because it doesn’t fulfill the admittedly all-important child producing requirement.

    Victoria, I agree with your statement on the design norm. Are you suggesting that sexual activities outside that design norm are improper, and if so, why?

    I am trying to determine if the assertion is something other than “sexual acts that don’t produce babies are improper.”

  7. Brap,

    Did you miss “(And I think “improper” in this case can be understood as not in keeping with the original intent of Act A.)”?

    When you compare the significance of the child producing effect of Act A and compare to the other uses it becomes apparent that the practice of the other uses exclusively, without the child producing effect, are outside of the original intent as those other uses were only secondary to the child producing effect. It promotes the secondary use to primary status.

    It’s one of the problems with all extra marital “Act As”. It puts the secondary uses in a primary position. It also removes the context of commitment with an act of ultimate intimacy. When intimacy exceeds commitment it’s called “using someone”.

  8. @Brap
    I am trying to determine if the assertion is something other than “sexual acts that don’t produce babies are improper.”

    The Biblical position on this is categorically and unequivocally that sexual intimacy is designed by God to be between a man and a woman (and consenting adults at that), in the context of a monogamous lifelong committed union. The design intent is (and this is made clear in Scripture) for his and her mutual pleasure, a physical expression of the love they have for each other, and to potentially produce children (under the appropriate conditions, obviously).

    How would your criterion deal with an infertile married couple, for example? Nobody (not even in the Bible) would consider their intimate acts improper.
    What about extramarital sex (adultery, for example), or rape? Why do we frown on the former, and prosecute the latter?

    Man and woman are deliberately designed for each other in this way (see Genesis 1 and 2) – this is God’s design ideal for us; because of the Fall (see Genesis 3), this design ideal has been corrupted, which is something we all have to deal with in one way or another. However, the way to deal with any sin is to take hold of God’s offer of redemption and restoration, not to redefine it as OK.

  9. And Brap, when I said “…the practice of the other uses exclusively…” I meant it to be within the context of male-male or female-female Act As. Victoria above covers the male-female other uses within a marriage.

  10. Brap Gronk,

    Do you think same-sex acts are proper, and what does that word mean?

    You keep pressing on the question of “improper,” and I suspect the impasse you feel here has to do with lack of definition of terms. I’d like to know what “proper” means to you so I can get a sense of what its negation means to you.

  11. Tom,

    Yes, I finally came to realize this afternoon that those pesky definitions are getting in the way again. I’d like to discuss “improper” instead of “proper,” since that’s where my thoughts have been.

    I think I’m using “improper” to mean “wrong” (see #3 in this thread), since it is soon followed by “misplacement” in the article you linked to. I think BillT and Victoria view “improper” in this context to mean something like “non-standard” or perhaps “abnormal.” Looking back, yeah, I missed that.

    I would not typically use the words “improper” or “wrong” to describe the use of a book as a door stop. I doubt any books were designed to be door stops, but most can certainly serve that purpose. I would have no problem calling that a non-standard use of a book, only treading into “wrong” territory if it were a book that in my opinion should not be put on the floor and used as a door stop. (Bibles and wedding albums quickly come to mind.)

    So, if “improper” is a synonym for “non-standard” in the article, I’m fine with that and I can move on and ask my next question about the article. If, on the other hand, “improper” is a synonym for “wrong” in the article, I’d still like to know why.

  12. I asked the question that way for a reason, though. There are at least two possible reasons to object to calling homosexual relations improper. One is that one thinks they are proper in a positive sense: they are good and healthy and moral. The other is that one thinks the idea of “proper” and “improper” doesn’t belong in the discussion, possibly because it’s meaningless, or possibly because it’s irrelevant in this case.

    How you understand “improper” is still unclear to me, and yet it it is still important. I’d appreciate you clarifying further. Thanks.

  13. Tom, here is my answer to “Do you think same-sex acts are proper, and what does that word mean?” Given the first definition of “proper” at dictionary.com, which is:

    adapted or appropriate to the purpose or circumstances; fit; suitable

    I would say same-sex acts are proper, assuming the scenario is consenting adults who seek to pleasure themselves and perhaps each other. They are adapting to the circumstances.

    Given the second definition of “proper,” however:

    conforming to established standards of behavior or manners; correct or decorous

    same-sex acts might not be considered proper, depending on what one considers established standards of behavior. Same-sex acts are certainly in the minority, but we know majority does not necessarily mean right. If a person’s standards of behavior extend into the bedroom, then they probably would not consider same-sex acts to be proper. (They might also find a few less mainstream heterosexual acts improper.) If a person’s standards of behavior are more broad, such as simply following the Golden Rule, then they might be more likely to consider same-sex acts proper. I’m more of a Golden Rule person, so I’d consider same-sex acts proper under definition 2.

    Regarding how I understand “improper,” I’d say the closest synonym would be “wrong.”

  14. Who knows what kind of kinship structures would arise in the bizarre reality that the thought experiment invents? I think that’s really just anybody’s guess. In such a world, perhaps the drive and need for intimate, romantic pair bonding wouldn’t have developed. But it did develop in this one.

    The homosexual may have romantic inclinations towards the same gender, and therefore cannot produce children on their own, yet they still have a need for the types of romantic unions that arose in our nature. It’s just as much a part of their nature, as it is in the rest of us. It seems of little import that those aspects of our nature evolved because of their reproductive advantage with respect to child rearing.

    Maybe in a world where we could “cure” homosexuality with a pill, no one would actually choose to remain homosexual – but that hardly helps us now, or helps the homosexual now. They are just like the rest of us, and need and desire stabilizing, committed romantic kinships with a partner.

    And so long as we formally recognize and honor those inclinations in the heterosexual, it is our moral duty to recognize and honor them in the homosexual.

  15. @d:

    You write a post which makes an appeal to “nature”, including “needs” rooted in said nature, and ends with a non-consequentialist appeal to “moral duty”. On the other hand, you make sure to interleave a statement that “it seems of little import” that “those aspects” are essentially connected with said nature.

    So what gives? Is what you wrote a mere turn of phrase, ultimately translateable into non-essentialist, consequentialist talk? Plain inconsistency? A denial of (non-essentialist) consequentialism?

  16. More or less what I’m trying to point out is that, like much of the natural law reasoning employed around these parts, human nature (and the variations contianed within) arent considered in the whole.

    For homosexuals still posess the desire and need for a complimentary romantic union.. and for homosexuals, same-gender partners form that complimentary union. This consideration was left out of the thought experiment.

    Maybe in some bizarre world where only homosexuals existed, the need for exclusive romantic pair bondings never would have developed. But it did develop in this one, and homosexuals share those needs with the rest of us.

    If one is going to appeal to nature, one has to consider all the elements in the equation, not just one point to the exclusion of all others.

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