Collect for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity

Lord of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things: graft in our hearts the love of thy Name; increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of thy great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Why Hast Thou Thus Dealt With Us?

It is the rarest thing in the world to hear a rational discussion of vivisection.1 Those who disapprove of it are commonly accused of ‘sentimentality,’ and very often their arguments justify the accusation. They paint pictures of pretty little dogs lying on dissecting tables. But the other side lie open to exactly the same charge. They also defend the practice by drawing pictures of suffering women and children whose pain can be relieved (we are assured) only by the fruits of vivisection. The one appeal, quite as clearly as the other, is addressed to emotion, to the particular emotion we call pity. And neither appeal proves anything. If the thing is right—and if right at all, it is a duty—then pity for the animal is one of the temptations we must resist in order to perform that duty. If the thing is wrong, then pity for human suffering is precisely the temptation which will most probably lure us into doing that wrong thing. But the real question—whether it is right or wrong—remains meanwhile just where it was.

—C. S. Lewis, God In the Dock, ‘Vivisection’

And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.

✠     ✠     ✠

Before I return to more regular content, I want to address a particular argument for Side A theology2 that, I feel, helps no one. Roughly summarized, it’s the argument from agony: how could God demand celibacy of gay people? It’s stated with great clarity and pathos by Constantino Khalaf on his blog.

The uncomfortable truth is that many gay Christians who can’t reconcile their faith and sexual orientation often slip into promiscuity. … Committing to someone of the same sex would mean committing to a life of unrepentant sin, whereas the ‘trip up’ involved in casual sex is an offense from which we can easily seek forgiveness. … Scripture and human experience reveal that celibacy is a gift reserved only for some. I implore our straight brothers and sisters to imagine being told you must permanently abstain from sex (not only until marriage, but for life), while in your hearts you don’t feel called to celibacy. Imagine spending years praying that God will either change your sexual orientation or numb your desires for intimacy. Imagine trying one therapy after another, often at severe emotional and financial costs. Imagine praying for just one thing, but the one thing you ask for is the one thing God continuously denies.

‘Well, Lord,’ you might say, ‘I’ve done everything I could to give up this need. If you won’t help me; if I’m on my own; I give up. If you’ve turned me over to illicit desires, then I’ll give in. Goodbye.’ This is tragic, and I can’t imagine it pleases God. In fact, I can’t think of a better example of a wolf in sheep’s clothing than a theology that, in its practical application, favors promiscuity over monogamy. ‘A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.’ You cannot build a healthy sexual ethic on just ‘don’t do it.’ Gay Christians have never been given a framework for God-honoring sexuality, and this is the reason why so many use sex less ethically than non-believers.3

I hope that anyone who reads this does have a pang of compassion: no matter the details of your theology, other people’s suffering is a tragic result of the Fall, and is rightly mourned. Further, it's absolutely true that a theology consisting merely in No is unlivable, and that the Church has made a fairly shabby showing thus far in terms of giving her LGBT children something more. And to dispose of one very bad counterargument, when he speaks of sex, I don’t think Mr Khalaf has the mere physical act in mind; the piece as a whole make it clear he is talking about erotic fulfillment, of which sexual intimacy is the crown; to go without that involuntarily, even if we think it’s morally necessary, is a terrible hardship. 

Nevertheless, the syllogism drawn by Mr Khalaf (and many others) from the data is gravely flawed, and there are sounder reasons to take Side A views. There are certain details which merit discussion in their own right—for instance, what the criteria of discernment are; does everyone feel called to what God in fact calls them to? or are there objective, ‘external’ touchstones upon which to make that judgment? Is the fact that God refuses something to the earnest suppliant evidence that that thing is, intrinsically, undesirable or unnecessary? or might He have other reasons for refusal? But I don’t propose to treat these other questions, because the chief argument here is the argument from agony. Would God really consign someone to a lifetime of self-denial with respect to eros? Would He allow—no, require—that kind of suffering?

I think the answer is a totally unavoidable Yes. And not just because I’m Side B: when, for a brief period some years back, I was Side A, I’d have given you the same answer. To say that God would not allow that kind of suffering makes a mockery of Auschwitz, Dachau, Buchenwald, Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Lubyanka, Vladivostok, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and Sirte. If these things do not make belief in a benevolent God untenable, unwanted and unhappy celibacy certainly won’t.

But would He impose that kind of suffering? Why? What for? Well—as hackneyed and unjustly applied as the topic usually is—we already know He does in the case of pedophiles. The two cases are extremely different: two women or two men can give meaningful consent, while a child can’t; and consent (that is, the intention of mutual self-gift, regardless of any attendant imperfections) is even more central to sex than procreation on Catholic premises, for sex that doesn’t happen to result in a baby need not be immoral, whereas rape always and necessarily is. But, as soon as we admit any case in which some person is simply not allowed to ever have the erotic relationship they most desire, full stop, the possibility of another such case emerges by the terrible force of logic.

Now, it’s perfectly possible to hold that there is in fact only one such case, or that there are multiple cases of this kind but homosexuality isn’t in fact one of them. Arguments about the meanings of Greek and Hebrew words are well and good; arguments about whether and how much ancient cultural expectations of the genders influenced sexual mores, and whether we ought to retain those expectations or modify them or reject them, are well and good; even arguments about progressive revelation are well and good. These deal in facts. But let us have none of the argument from agony, for there is no doctrine, no religion, no total view of the universe, that can eliminate the fact of agony. Only the Second Coming can do that. The Christian may espouse many things, but he cannot espouse the doctrine that obedience will never make martyrs, not when his God was martyred, in life and death. Perhaps the gay Christian need not crucify his erotic desires; but he will most assuredly have to crucify something, and it will be at least as appalling as the terrible call to unwanted celibacy. Take thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest …

If other ages felt less, they saw more, even though they saw with the blind, prophetical, unsentimental eye of acceptance, which is to say, of faith. In the absence of this faith now, we govern by tenderness. It is a tenderness which, long cut off from the person of Christ, is wrapped in theory. When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror. It ends in forced labor-camps and in the fumes of the gas chamber.

—Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose

✠     ✠     ✠

1Vivisection is the practice of performing surgery on living animals for purposes of research, as opposed to the medical purpose of treating some ailment. Conservatives of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were for the most part horrified by the practice—for instance, Dr Samuel Johnson (of dictionary fame) wrote a severe denunciation of vivisection, quoted by Lewis near the end of this essay—while Darwinian scientists generally defended it. C. S. Lewis, though not an activist, was an unwavering opponent of the practice.
2If you don’t read this blog regularly or don’t travel much in gay Christian circles, Side A is a sort of nickname for progressivist theology on the subject of homosexuality: i.e., the belief that God blesses homosexual unions on the same basis as heterosexual ones. Whether and to what extent marriage is involved varies somewhat among different Side A theologians, though most of those I know of consider it just as necessary for gay people as for straight.
3From ‘Pious Promiscuity’ on Dave and Tino.


  1. I feel the analogies offered here are unhelpful to your argument. "Does God require suffering? Look at Auschwitz" = bad analogy. Unless you're claiming that God called people to live a life of Auschwitz, but I don't think you are. The connection to pedophilia is also problematic because most pedophiles do not have exclusive attractions only to children, thus they can enjoy meaningful sexual and romantic relationships with consenting adults, it is merely one aspect of their sexual desire (albeit generally a pretty strong one) that cannot get fulfilled, but they do not in the grand majority of cases have to live sexless lives. So perhaps there's a better exemplifier of your point?

    In short, I'm trying to square a God who says "It's not good for man to be alone" and whose answer for that is a sexual mate, who then turns around and says "but it is good for gays to be alone forever with no sexual help-meet for life by virtue of their orientation." Unless what you're arguing is that God's instead saying "it's not good for gays to be alone, but I guess they'll just have to be, because they're gay, and hey, I let people suffer in Auschwitz, so I gotta let the gays suffer too. Tough love and all. They'll get relief in Heaven, so it's all good." Which I guess makes sense why Auschwitz entered the conversation. Also, sorry if the phrasing is a little crude, but it's not meant to be dismissive...I'm just a smartass is all. :)

    1. No, I didn't mean "God let Auschwitz happen, therefore Side B"; that would be insulting to the victims of Auschwitz as well as to Side A, and indeed to intelligence in general. The point I was making there is that horrifying suffering is, at the least, not outside God's permissive will. Starting from there, if Side B theology is true, then the original design of humanity did *not* involve homosexuality. Taking those two premises together, the fact that a Side B ethic does result in suffering in the world as we know it doesn't prove anything against that ethic -- which was the only point I was trying to make.

      I bother making this point because the 'argument from agony' is something I've been seeing a lot of lately, and I think it's deeply destructive, not just to Side B (and Side A, actually, in the long run), but to Christianity and indeed to theism as such.

      The example of pedophilia -- dissimilar though it is to homosexuality in most respects -- does, in my opinion, hold. Certainly, very few people are exclusively pedophilic in their impulses; but then, very few people are a perfect 6 on the Kinsey scale. If 'produced' to its logical conclusion, it seems to me an argument that seeks to preserve some sexual outlet for any given person could as easily be crammed into a Side B ethic as into a Side A one -- I mean, since many if not most lesbians and gay men can find some degree of sexual satisfaction in a straight relationship, they can have one of those; and any version of this view leaves those who are aroused only by children, however minuscule in number, with no hope of relief. I for one am not willing to countenance that possibility. At the same time I recognize that total abstinence will very probably be required of anyone unfortunate enough to suffer from exclusively pedophilic desires -- and if the number of people who may never have the sex they want is as high as one, it may be higher.

      For it seems that the unspoken premise in your argument is that gay orientation is as much part of the original pattern of creation as straight orientation. This is tenable, but it's precisely what the traditional view disputes, and therefore can't be made the basis of argument without being discussed in its own right first. For of course the traditionalist would reply that of course it is not good for man to be alone, but man was never meant to be gay any more than he was meant to be isolated, and disadvantages such as being gay are effects of the Fall: not sins, but wounds. It is *that* which must be hashed out in order to make an intelligent choice between A and B, and that question can't be decided solely on the basis of the world we observe, for the world we observe is precisely fallen -- it can give us information only on what the world is like when it's broken.

  2. Fair enough.

    But I think you do the argument from agony a disservice. Firstly, because it is rarely a sole argument from which Side A people base their beliefs. So, I think you go too far to say that it is a completely meaningless argument. After all, name another area outside of sexuality that God calls people to routinely that causes as much suffering as the Side B life would cause were it the sole option for LG people...

    I can think of many examples where *men* have said "thus saith the Lord" and it caused people needless suffering. So you see, the argument itself, when fully understood, must factor in the necessity portion of suffering. There is a such thing as needless suffering due to bad theology, which leads me to....

    I'm curious about what arguments you have against Side X vs Side B? Isn't equally as justifiable to say that God requires orientation change as he does lifelong celibacy? In my view, Side X is another "religious mandate" that has nothing to do with what God asks of gay Christians, because it leads to needless suffering. But this doesn't stop Side X people from dismissing the suffering argument much in the same you are now.

    As for pedophilia vs. homosexuality, I think you vastly underestimate the # of 6's on the Kinsey scale. It's no minuscule number by any stretch of the imagination, especially compared to the minuscule number of exclusive pedophiles (at least as far as we know). And there is virtually no research (at least that I know of) that states that such an exclusive orientation is intractable (though I suspect it is for some among them, maybe even most?). So your overall point still holds some water...just not very much in my opinion :)

    Finally, I have not made any arguments myself, so I think you err to find any premises about creation and gay orientation in them. I was merely attempting to ascertain the premises of your argument. But I'll speak to the point, because I think it's an important one. To me, it makes little sense to even discuss an "original pattern." I'm not sure God had much of an "original pattern" at all in mind regarding sexuality. Many animals existed millennia before homo sapiens, and I imagine homosexuality was as much a part of their pattern of nature as it is among them today, thus I can't imagine God was particularly scandalized when the smartest animal also exhibited the orientation and resultant behavior. He may indeed have implemented it as a design feature, but who knows? Even if he didn't, I can think of a few cases of issues that were not part of the original design, but God gave an accommodational pass on for the sake of human difficulty.

  3. Oh, forgot to mention. Another piece of the agony argument is related to a bigger conversation about discerning truth through "fruit." In my own life, that question has looked like "what fruit came of Sides X, B, and then A for me? Which of those sides made me a better human being?" Anyone who knew me through all 3 periods knows the answer to that question hands down. Again, I do not view this as sole argumentation for Side A vs B. Agony, fruits of the spirt, etc. are all parts of a larger I think there is a danger in saying that the arguments are completely meaningless. Agony is something we must consider in the equation. If your only point is that people who solely rely on agony as their reasoning, then I completely agree with you. That's not an adequate foundation to build upon alone. But if your assertion is that it should not be considered at all, then I must disagree, and I think that any form of theology that does not consider agony is probably veering into abusive spirituality territory.

    1. Oh, I don't for a moment assert that the appeal to agony is the sole, or even the chief, argument for Side A for most people; I have no idea whether there is an argument that *most* Side A people support. But I contend that it shouldn't be part of the discussion of which theology is true in the first place. Not because agony isn't important -- it absolutely is; but, unless we're willing to say that any doctrine which causes that kind of suffering is false, I think we have to view it as useless in discerning truth, because we've already shown that we're not willing to apply it consistently.

      What the appeal to agony does properly do (in my opinion) is prompt *action.* I consider this closely parallel to C. S. Lewis' distinction between the action and the passion of pity in 'The Great Divorce.' But action can take place only within the context of a known world (i.e., you should know what you're doing when you do it), and how much something hurts doesn't tell you anything about whether it's real.

      All that being said, there are far better arguments for Side A than this. I didn't treat them at length here, because I was concerned to deal with an argument I think not only fallacious, but, if applied consistently, kind of terrifying. And it also bears saying that, if we accept a Side B ethic, it doesn't follow that there is only one way of dealing with that reality; I think the pastoral concessions sometimes made for heterosexuals should absolutely be made for us too, and that there is good Biblical as well as historical precedent for doing so.

      (Incidentally, when I said 'your argument' above, I did literally mean your *argument,* i.e. the one you were making, which may or may not represent your views; a bit clumsy on my part there. I'm happy to discuss either, but I do want to make appropriate distinctions -- and not put words in your mouth.)


    2. As to the idea that God had no design in mind for sexuality, how could a Christian possibly hold such a view? For if so, either sexuality is so trivial as to be beneath the notice of a Mind with infinite time and energy at its disposal -- which doesn't square very well with Scripture (whether on a B interpretation or an A one); it also doesn't seem to sit comfortably with the idea that there are such things as sexual sins or erotic needs. I mean, if sexuality were really that unimportant, then I'd think the agony of loneliness would be correspondingly unimportant, as would the wrongness of pedophilia among other things. I could see a Gnostic making such an argument, but Christianity surely involves us in the view that the body is part of the image of God, and sexuality is one of the few aspects of the self that involves soul and body in their totality.

      Or, God had no design for sexuality, and the rules He imposes are thus wholly arbitrary and have nothing to do with the good of man. Not an unknown view; but, well, I used to worship that God and found Him monstrous. But I can scarcely believe that you espouse either of those views, so I assume I've misprised you somehow.

      I've always understood 6s on the Kinsey scale to be comparatively rare -- not necessarily few, in absolute terms, but that people who identify as lesbians or gay men are usually closer to a 5, and of course some show fluidity. I'm also given to understand that such research as has been conducted on pedophilia suggests that the impulse (though not, obviously, the behavior) is indeed intractable. However, I consider one person's agony as logically important as a thousand's, and I've been pretty dismayed in the past when the relative number of LGBT people was used as a reason to consider our eccentricity unimportant.

      The argument from bad and good fruit again seems problematic to me. For of course, what's under discussion is whether a given kind of sexual behavior is always, sometimes, or never bad fruit. This isn't to say spiritual abuse isn't a real and horrible thing, and false doctrine certainly encourages it; unfortunately I find that true doctrine can be used for abuse as well. And people's virtues are often asymmetrical: they may be wonderfully good in one respect and need lots of improvement in another. The test of fruit can -- with immense caution and appropriate uncertainty -- be applied to people; I don't know that it can usefully be applied to beliefs at all.

  4. A few quick things, as the family is on its way south (eventually landing in your backyard for a few days)...

    1.) I agree with the caution on fruits. But what do you assert the test of fruit as applied to people is for, and what can it tell us about people, and what "fruit" do we examine to tell us that about them?

    2.) In the original Kinsey data, the exclusives were about 5% (or a little more) of the total sample, which at the time was about 8 million people. You'd likely get numbers nowhere near that high for exclusive pedophiles (I use my terms cautiously here because we don't have great data). Also consider that Kinsey 5's are effectively Kinsey 6's in most cases (people who "experimented" with heterosexuality at 14 or 15 get thrown into a 5 or a 4 on the Kinsey automatically, but in terms of actual orientation, they're 6's... the pressure to live up to heternormative standards obscures the overall scale a bit).

    3.) I see where you're coming from on agony, but I still insist that the argument from harm has to be part of the discussion, for otherwise, God has no ethical/moral foundation, other than whimsy and capriciousness. The argument from harm will get you there 99% of the time when the question is "Why does God allow this or not allow that?" Harm seems to be pretty foundational to God's ethical/moral essence, so to throw the question out when discussing any of God's "designs" is as problematic to me as making conclusions solely on arguments of harm.

    4.) The intractable I was talking about was an *exclusive* orientation towards children...not the orientation towards children itself. (In other words, one may be inclined toward children the rest of their lives, but I don't know that they are exclusively drawn to children the rest of their lives). I have anecdotally heard of pedophiles who, as they aged, lost attraction towards children and became hebephiles instead. In my estimation, there's simply not enough data to warrant comparison of homosexuality to pedophilia. But I appreciate your argument that one is the same as a thousand, at the very least for that one person...and therefore for me, because I'm in-tune to "the least of these." I'm just cautious/wary about comparison of issues, because it generally never gets us far, and always has so many caveats as to generally render the arguments/comparisons meaningless.

    5.) Nah, you're right. I'm not suggesting God had no design in mind for sexuality as a whole, nor has any cares about it. I was discussing "original pattern," and even then solely with regard to sexual orientation. The ubiquity of homosexuality across the animal world leads me to believe that God either had no *moral* design in mind with regard to orientation, considering it to be as inconsequential as humans' development of taste preferences, or that he in fact designed it to be there from the very beginning. I could say much, much more here, but alas, packing.

    1. Sorry to have left this so long. And if you feel like hanging out while you're in the area, let me know. :)

      1) I think the testing of fruits, applied to people, is about whom to trust and imitate. This interpretation unites it with the Seven Woes in Matthew 23: 'The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses' seat; therefore do whatever they tell you, but do not do as they do.' If the test of fruit were applied to the Pharisees in order to deduce that their doctrines were false, this command would make no sense; if it's understood to mean they shouldn't be *trusted* even when they are obeyed, then it certainly remains a hard saying, but an intelligible one.

      2) That makes sense.

      3) Ah, I should have been more careful in how I phrased things. I do believe that right and wrong, viewed from another perspective, are basically words for 'what's good for humanity' and 'what's bad for humanity.' The unfortunate catch is that human beings are not always very good at discerning what is, in fact, best for us. The traditional contention is that, whatever other beneficial qualities it may have (which need not and should not be glossed over), gay sex is in fact bad for us, and that, whatever suffering it may involve us in, chastity (as traditionally understood) is good for us.

      A logical parallel occurs in the film 'Breaking Away,' where the main character pretends to be an Italian exchange student to impress a college girl; eventually, he confesses, and she is understandably hurt and angry, and leaves him: serious and real suffering follows on doing the right thing, whereas mutual delight existed while the lie remained in effect. That delight wouldn't have lasted, and we can see why; the traditionalist assertion is that the good things involved with gay sex won't last either. Lying is, obviously, not much like homosexuality; and I will say frankly that, for me personally, it takes a lot more faith to believe that gay sex is wrong than to believe that lying is wrong -- I have *no* intuitive sense of the wrongness of gay sex. But the parallel, that doing what's objectively good can hurt like hell, seems to me to stand.

      4) I think wariness of comparisons is appropriate. All of them break down somewhere. I don't much like drawing this particular comparison, given the disgusting history of many traditionalists and ex-gay proponents implying or asserting that homosexuality and pedophilia naturally overlap. But I draw the comparison only in the one aspect of wanting *something* they can never licitly have. If it helps, pica (a disorder in which a person craves to eat things that aren't food, like glass or clay) is also logically parallel -- I didn't use it because food seems so comparatively trivial when set beside eros, that I feared it would be even more misleading an analogue than the other.

      5) I think I get that. My own pet theory is that mankind was meant, in being spiritualized, to raise sexuality (like the rest of our animal nature) into a more perfectly ordered, definite, deliberate form than it has among irrational creatures, and that the Fall interfered with human nature partly in causing us to 'relapse' into behaviors and qualities we were meant to domesticate. However, this is at most a wild guess. My theology is amateur and my evolutionary biology is borderline nonexistent.