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Why Christians are obsessed with sex


'Let's Talk About Sex' stylised textThe Hon. Michael Kirby recently said that those in the churches expecting gay people to be celibate should 'start thinking about the real moral questions in our society and in our world. They should lift their thoughts from the human genitals to real problems, on which their views may actually be helpful, such as animal welfare, refugees, modern social relationships, the protection of children, the state of the biosphere, global poverty', and so on.

I'm sure there are people — both inside the churches and out of them — who have an unhealthy fascination with sexual morality. Likewise, there are undoubtedly people who, in the guise of Christian piety, hold very unchristian attitudes towards men and women who are attracted to members of the same sex.

These people are missing the point of ethics, in particular the system of ethics first expounded by Aristotle and subsequently reconciled with the Christian faith by St Thomas Aquinas.

When I first started working in bioethics I discovered that the words good and evil have a very natural, normal, logical meaning. 'Good' means 'good for human beings', and 'evil' means 'bad for human beings'. Aristotle described the ultimate goal of human life as 'eudaimonia' or 'flourishing': actions that contribute to our flourishing are good for us, and actions that detract from our flourishing are bad for us.

The point of ethics is to work out (hopefully ahead of time) what it takes to flourish, and whether our actions assist or impede this goal. We know what it takes for plants and animals to flourish; what about we 'rational animals'? Most of the answers are already known, and widely recognised across human cultures and history.

Unfortunately ethics, morality, and basic terms like good and evil have become loaded with a range of other meanings. We modern Australians unwittingly inhabit an intellectual landscape shaped and scarred by centuries of countervailing thoughts, opinions, ideologies, and interpretations. We carry a lot of baggage — cultural, religious, and moral. Getting rid of baggage takes a lot of time and energy: you have to unpack it.

The only way to unpack the baggage associated with the word 'evil' is to study its precise, complex meaning and overcome superficial allusions to devils waving pitchforks. And the only way to get beyond the received wisdom that Christians are obsessed with 'genitals' is to study the ethics and reasoning which inform their teachings.

Ethics is a radical science, but its range and scope is dwarfed by the significance of Christianity. Approaching both Christianity and ethics as truly revolutionary fields should cut us off from the prejudices and presumptions that shape our culture. There is, after all, nothing new in the demand that difficult teachings and philosophies be adapted to match the wisdom of this age. The Christian reply is that the wisdom of this age will come to nothing.

Kirby's mistake lies in thinking that sexual ethics is some separate, obsessive component of Christian teaching that could be blotted out or replaced with something more popular such as animal welfare.

But if some Christians are obsessed with sex, it is because many human beings are. The ethical 'supply' exists to meet the demand, and when it comes to sexual ethics, that demand is not being met by secular society.

Consider the secular constraints on gluttony, intoxication, sloth and violence. We are, to varying degrees, told to hold back. We are warned about obesity, the dangers of binge drinking, the need for exercise and the social problem of violence. We fear the natural consequences of these actions and are told to moderate our behaviour. But when was the last time you heard a warning about too much sex or the natural consequences of lust?

These other 'vices' are typical fodder for Christian morality, but the wisdom of our present age happens to guard against them, if only for consequentialist reasons. Only lust is held sacred, notwithstanding the protocols of 'safe sex', because lust is held in singular regard by our present culture.

It is natural for people to take offense when they are told that their behaviour is not good for them. But the true purpose of ethics is to inform those who dare to ask ahead of time 'will this really be good for me?' We would all like to discount the answers we don't like, but the moment we do, we have ceased to do ethics.

Christianity puts great demands on the faithful in all aspects of life. Yet as G. K. Chesterton wrote: 'The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.'

Zac Alstin headshot smilingZac Alstin is a freelance writer and part-time research officer for Southern Cross Bioethics Institute in Adelaide. He has an honours degree in philosophy, a graduate certificate in applied linguistics, and an amateur interest in Chinese philosophy. 

Topic tags: Zac Alstin, Michael Kirby, sexual ethics



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Existing comments

"When I first started working in bioethics I discovered that the words good and evil have a very natural, normal, logical meaning. 'Good' means 'good for human beings', and 'evil' means 'bad for human beings'." Zac, what might be good for human beings and appear to contribute to our flourishing might be very very bad for the rest of creation, and so not really good for us at all. I would prefer a definition of good and evil that took into account how we, as humans, live within the whole of creation.

Janet | 26 October 2012  

It took me a while to get through all the PC polite talk to get to your real thesis, Zac, that we equate we see sexuality as a bad thing - or a naughty reward, in your reasoning about "being told to hold back" in the same way as gluttony etc. Well celibacy is quite an extreme expression of holding back, wouldn't you think?

AURELIUS | 26 October 2012  

Oh dear, Zac. Have you studied philosophy? What a disrespectful correlation you make between Hon. Michael Kirby's ethical concerns about the well-being of sentient creatures and his personal views on human sexuality. It made me wonder whether you meant to dogwhistle support for Senator Bernardi's reason for defending 'traditional' (not Biblical, unless we include polygamy and concubinage) marriage. All this emphasis on sex, when greed, spite and anger are destroying the created world . . .

Moira Rayner | 26 October 2012  

'Kirby's mistake lies in thinking that sexual ethics is some separate, obsessive component of Christian teaching that could be ... replaced with something more popular...' Why allocate "mistake" to the Hon. Michael Kirby? His statement carries more than a grain of truth. Current concerns he listed, especially refugees, the protection of children, and global poverty, all deserve at least as much focus from Christians as sexual morality. In over 60 years of my life as an Australian Catholic, the Church has placed greater emphasis on sexual morality than on the morality of justice towards fellow humanity. In an age where refugees are increasingly blamed for their extreme misfortune, children are trafficked for slavery (both for labour and for sex)and global poverty is represented even in our own most well-off nation especially among indigenous Australians, clearly, 'the wisdom of our present age' and secular constraints against injustice to others are NOT sufficient. When was the last time you heard a sermon on living social justice? When was the last time you read of a senior Catholic cleric speaking publicly against the injustice inherent in our welfare system? Have you ever heard one of our parliamentarians who wear Catholicism on their sleeves speak for introducing some compassion into our refugee policy?

Ian Fraser | 26 October 2012  

Ethics is not a science. Science consists of advancing hypotheses based on observation, and then carrying out tests to see whether those hypotheses are accurate. It has no moral dimension. It deals with the observable, measurable, quantifiable and testable. Ethics is a branch of philosophy, not science. It is another kind of religion, albeit a secular one.

Doug Pollard | 26 October 2012  

This is where the injustice/imbalance is in the argument - celibacy is meant to be a choice, but the church recognises that celibacy is not possible for everyone (ie heterosexuals) So why should the church expect that celibacy is any more possible for a homosexual person? For heterosexuals, sexual intimacy is regarded as sacred, but for homosexuals it's seen as lust. If you want to use the analogy of gluttony/sloth/greed - then imposing a moral imperative of celibacy would be like encouraging bulimia or anorexia.

AURELIUS | 26 October 2012  

Hi Janet, You're quite right. It can be very difficult (and sometimes very inconvenient) to work out if something is truly good for us. For example, our society has learned over the past century that it is not good for us to treat the local environment as a dumping ground. Not only is it potentially dangerous for us, but it also shows a lack of regard for our impact on the rest of creation. I think that is what some Christians refer to as 'stewardship'.

Zac | 26 October 2012  

The moral conception of "lust" (pun intended) depends, does it not, on the unspoken value judgement we make when we appeal to the term? If "lust" is shorthand for getting your rocks off regardless of the damage (e.g. child sexual abuse - including in the church) no-one of sound conscience, Michael Kirby least of all, would disagree with society's censure of it. But if "lust" is shorthand for sexual-pleasure-in-itself - and thereby condemned on the ethical basis of some preconceived sexual cosmogony - then this Catholic for one is on the side of the (allegedly) secular humanists. And a good standpoint to re-evaluate the Christian ethic of sexuality might be Jacob Bronowski, "The Ascent of Man", the capter "Generation upon Generation".

Fred Green | 26 October 2012  

Hi Aurelius, I'm always surprised when people tell me what my real thesis is. In this case, I thought I was trying to explain the nature of ethics as a 'holistic' program that encompasses sexuality. Gluttony etc. were offered as examples of ethical perspectives that are generally accepted by the culture without much fuss. Only sexuality is singled out as an 'obsession' on the part of the ethical system. Gluttony does not in fact provide a precise analogy for lust. The ethics of sex, or indeed of eating, and of violence are too big an issue to be added to the above article.

Zac | 26 October 2012  

Hi Moira, If you read the opening paragraph, you will see that 'animal welfare' is the first 'real problem' mentioned by Kirby in contrast to sexual ethics. So if you think I am 'dogwhistling', does that mean Kirby is doing it too? I have studied philosophy.

Zac | 26 October 2012  

Hi Ian, Fair point, though Kirby wasn't just saying there is too much focus on sexual issues, but that sexual issues aren't really issues at all. For what it's worth, I've never heard a sermon on a sexual issue, though I have heard many on social justice issues.

Zac | 26 October 2012  

Hi Doug. The idea of a 'moral dimension' points to a false fact/value or is/ought dichotomy popular since David Hume. In the classical understanding, science is a logical system of knowledge. What we now think of as simply 'science' is, properly speaking, natural, empirical science. Ethics can be considered a science when it is "a rational and intelligible discipline which can be taught and learnt, with principles and conclusions which can be demonstrated, communicated and debated, even between people who do not share the same principles or conclusions." It is much more reasonable to refer to ethics as a science in this context, than to consider it a kind of secular religion. Though I don't blame you, considering the kinds of ideas that pass for ethics in our society.

Zac | 26 October 2012  

Oh dear Moira,why did you have to bring Bernardi into the fray! and then throw in OT concept of marriage with polygamy etc when I would have thought someone in your postion would know Jesus' thoughts on marriage???? Thank you Zac for your thoughts.

Ignatius | 26 October 2012  

Thanks Zac. Both your article and the responses so far have a lot to pay attention to. It seems to me that sexual behaviour and gender issues are so complex an yet so important to humans and human society that it is quite right that the Church and ethicists spend a lot of time on it. But I do agree with other commentators that both the relative emphasis of the Church on "sex" and "sexual acts" compared to other contemporary and historic issues, and its picking of some issues within this sex domain over what I would regard as even more important ones, is imbalanced and can be rather frustrating for those working in the real world. There needs to be more about sexual objectivisation, abuse, violence, consumerisation, trafficking etc, and less obsession about contraception ,especially in marriage, and even a more balanced and nuanced perspective on abortion (as indeed there used to be in the Catholic tradition). Increasingly, the position on compulsory celibacy for religious, and the banning of women from priesthood and/or the power structures, seems neurotic at best, and frankly increasingly bizarre and "out of touch". Homosexuality is a difficult one, but another area the Church needs to get a lot more sophisticated about, if only to be listened to. Unlike a writer in this blog a few days ago, I don`t think that one can credibly say that homosexuality is "normal" ; and that is an underlying part of the Kirby/marriage equality etc agenda...to get society and indeed the Church to say that homosexuality is fully OK. But: statistically homosexuals comprise about 5% of the population ie around the 2 Standard Deviation cut off point of "biologic normality"; the sex act in males of putting ones penis into another man`s faecally-contaminated rectum is objectively biologically abnormal and pretty unhealthy, even if exceptional wild animal examples can be found; in general the homosexual lifestyle is again objectively unhealthy if you look at most outcome data, especially on STDs , suicide rates, mental illness etc ( although it is argued that some of that is response to societal ostracism) ; it is inherently more promiscuous, as anyone who has come across the workings of the San Francisco-type "gay bathhouses" will know, with 24 hour a day "rutting" by highly sexed alpha males. However, this is not to say that the Gay disposition is not inherent to the individual, whether genetic, epi-genetic or nurtured, and this sexual personality is not in itself "sinful" ,as indeed the Church says.And Gay people need to be respected and receive social equality etc, and what consenting adults do together behind closed doors should not be subject to the law etc. But as so frequently happens in the Church`s response to issues, the ideal becomes the enemy of the good: surely there can be personal and pastoral engagement, counselling for harm minimisation, encouragement for stable loving relationships in this context, and celebration and blessing of that in the Church community , and the recognition that the Church is for sinners, and that the Eucharist may be especially important to those of us who are?.

Eugene | 26 October 2012  

Hi Fred, Yes, it does indeed depend on how lust is interpreted. Lust has been described in the Thomistic tradition as 'inordinate sexual desire', which naturally raises the question of what 'ordinate' sexual desire might be. It's too big an issue to get into here, but the basic approach from both an ethical and religious perspective is to start by working out our goal or endpoint, and then to determine how we should behave so as to reach it. The problem with the current debate is that many people take the status quo as the starting point, and try to work out how to reconcile it with ethics and religion.

Zac | 26 October 2012  

Aurelius, regarding your second comment, what the ethical tradition teaches (and you may see it reflected in the churches teachings) is that certain actions, regardless of our orientation or identity, are not compatible with our flourishing as human beings. This is obviously a contentious claim, and runs entirely contrary to the popular notion that the desire for sexual intimacy with a member of the same sex is prima facie evidence of a fundamental difference in one's being, with a corresponding difference in how such people can flourish.

Zac | 26 October 2012  

Hi Eugene. Thanks for your comment. I think the most basic question is whether we are to examine religion and ethics from our contemporary standards, or to study our contemporary standards from the perspective of religion and ethics. Many people do the former, and cannot understand why ethics and religion are the way they are. What I've tried to argue that we should do the latter, and then ethics will make sense. Unfortunately, many people are less interested in making sense of ethics, and more interested in making ethics conform to their own values.

Zac | 26 October 2012  

Zac, I would argue that it is not the sexual "activity" that is the ethical point being debated here, and which has hence sparked the title of your article (and which you seemed not to have engaged with) - but the Christian ethical value is our faithfulness to one another, respectful relationships, the Golden Rule - rather than an examination of sexual techniques and positions. Then, the certain actions will be "regardless of orientation" as you claim. At the moment the ethical values you uphold are ENTIRELY dependent on orientation/identity - which is not evidenced in the scriptures.

AURELIUS | 26 October 2012  

I've always liked this quote by Charlotte Bronte about morality: "Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last. To pluck the mask from the face of the Pharisee, is not to lift an impious hand to the Crown of Thorns." It's not unusual to experience desire, or lust, for another person - indeed I think it's perfectly normal. It's the context in which those feelings occur, and where we take them, and if either of those circumstances aren't 'right' that should give us (Christians) pause for thought about what it really means to follow a holy God.

Pam | 26 October 2012  

It would be interesting to ask how much the Fundamentalist evangelical Christian stance on "righteousness" affects our views on sexuality i.e. Fred Nile's Christian Democratic Party.
On their propaganda flyer for tomorrow's NSW by-election for the seat of Sydney they mention "social justice" as one of their platforms, explaining it with reference to Amos 5:24. (Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!)
And righteousness/justice or course to them means "them" (the righteous/just ones) as opposed to "others" - the unrighteous/unjust ones - Muslims, homosexuals, euthanasia and abortionist advocates (who they list on their flyer as targets for legislation changes).

At least I'm lucky enough to be born Christian, unlike those "unrighteous Jews and Muslims", but I'm still not sure if I was born homosexual or not (so no kudos there), and I try to be pro-life - although that's not a moral issue of concern for me of course being male and gay (so def no kudos).

AURELIUS | 26 October 2012  

'Please God, give us the strength to do the impossible. But give us the courage to recognise what is really impossible. And above all, give us the wisdom to distinguish between them.'

AURELIUS | 26 October 2012  

Aurelius, I don't know anything about the Christian Democrat Party, but in general I would agree that some Christian groups and individuals have a disproportionate influence over the debate, in part because their attitudes and beliefs are much easier for society to grasp. It's quite common as a result for people to think, for example, that the Catholic position on homosexuality is derived entirely from a couple of scriptural references. When you start looking into the details it's quite amazing how different some of the denominations are, agreeing on only the bare minimum doctrinally.

Zac | 26 October 2012  

Hi Zac, I agree with you that “the most basic question is whether we are to examine religion and ethics from our contemporary standards, or to study our contemporary standards from the perspective of religion and ethics. Many people do the former, and cannot understand why ethics and religion are the way they are. What I've tried to argue that we should do the latter, and then ethics will make sense. Unfortunately, many people are less interested in making sense of ethics, and more interested in making ethics conform to THEIR own (convenient) values…” Yes, these grotesque distorted value-less values which have emerged from a “dead-head culture” of “moral relativism”; of “Do-It-Yourself “greed-is-good” mentality --- reveal a hideousness which is in direct conflict with (genuine) morality which necessarily automatically encompasses the (genuine) “greater good” for all humans and all God’s creatures and which embraces the teachings of Jesus “love one another as I love you” regardless of colour, creed, land of origin, etc. This means that all are equal before God, and so this teaching actually disallows unjustified UN-Christian labelling of any person. Only God reserves the right to judge; that is, after He will have asked each of us to judge ourselves first. (Aurelius please note). Nevertheless each of us are invited to consider the Christian way of life. Each of us are completely free to accept or to walk away from it. We know the “rules” - the Ten Commandments, which (if we really desire happiness and peace), are grounded in superlative logic (and have never been surpassed by any man-made laws). We also know that in the rejection of the “rules” we ourselves (and NOT God) get to choose our own demise - bringing disaster upon ourselves. And this is what the current mindless secular culture of “moral relativism” fails to realise.

mms | 26 October 2012  

Hi Pam, It's a good quote, but cuts both ways. There is more than one 'convention' in our society. If you think 'lust' is perfectly normal (in a positive sense) then either your definition of lust or your definition of normal is different from the ethical tradition.

Zac | 26 October 2012  

MMS, I can't understand from anything I have posted where you can get the idea that I am rejecting the rules. Ethics and morality is not just for ethicists - but for all of us, and God also judges ALL of us, so your invention to me to take note of God's judgment was un-called for. And lasy time I checked, the majority of Christian churches teach that homosexuality is not sinful. And another point - morality IS relative - it's ALWAYS relative. 'Please God, give us the strength to do the impossible. But give us the courage to recognise what is really impossible. And above all, give us the wisdom to distinguish between them.' If morality is anything other than RELATIVE, then we have no need to make judgments, no need to discern our actions in accordance with our conscience.

AURELIUS | 26 October 2012  

@Zac. Thanks for your feedback. When I said that "lust was perfectly normal" perhaps the choice of words could have been better. What I meant was that it occurs, frequently, and therefore is not unusual. Our response to it is the important factor. And our response should always be to follow our beliefs as Christians.

Pam | 26 October 2012  

Perhaps it is you have misunderstood the venerable Michael Kirby, Zac. It seems to me that you may be mistaking good old fashioned Christian bigotry for "ethics".

Michelle Goldsmith | 26 October 2012  

Thanks Zac, for your article and for presenting the matter in the way you have.
I have always felt that the morality or the lack thereof of any situation should be a matter to be judged on its OWN merits but what we find is time and again that it is presented by comparison with some other thing. Now, very rarely will you find two situations that are the same on all fours, and the result is that the issue gets clouded.

If the Hon Michael Kirby - with his fine legal mind - finds that the Church is not sufficiently involved with issues of refugees and so on, there in no problem in his stating so. But to drag in the Church's attitude to sexual matters, by way of comparison, does him little credit.

osmund | 26 October 2012  

Aurelius! Celibacy is a state of life motivated by desire to be freed for ministry in the kingdom of god on earth and a sign of future heaven where there is no marriage but love of god alone,such a state and motivations are not demanded of homosexuals[ in fact deep seated homosexuals are discouraged from celibate life[cf vatican directives on USA seminaries]
Both homosexuals, heterosexuals, and singles are to live a life of chastity according to their state of life keeping gods laws on sexual behaviour[both revealed and natural laws]
Unlike Zac i uphold a theocentric ethic[Aquinas] and not an anthropocentric reductionisT flourishment [Aristotle].Aquinas recognised that morality doesnt always assure Rogerian type self flourishment;nay indeed, sometimes sacrifice and death[pace martyrs of first commandment:Early Christians;martyr of 6th commandment:St Maria Goretti.

father john george | 27 October 2012  

This article and subsequent missed an opportunity to actually answer the question posed in the headline to the article - amounting basically to a repetition of Catholic catechismal teaching on sexuality - "the tradition". There's nothing wrong with that - I accept church teaching even though I struggle with it and question it - but I sincerely believe the way this topic is discussed is unholistic and has failed to see the far more important ethical value Jesus was on about - that of faithfulness to each other in relationship - commitment. Rather than reduce intimate human expressions of affection in terms of the dos and don'ts of our genitalia, he taught about loving one another we would would like them to love us. But with comments like that of Eugene, is it any wonder there's anger from gay people about it's teachings. - not because they reject the teachings, but because if the way it diminishes their full personhood. Sexual expression isn't just about pushing your penis into someone's hole! This schizophrenic way of thinking, I suspect, is what Justice Kirby was on about - and I also suspect it's the root cause of the church's sex abuse scandal.

AURELIUS | 27 October 2012  

Furthermore, in response to OSMOND, if you really want to judge this moral issue on its own merits without comparison, the Catechism is clear: (2396) 'Among the sins gravely contrary to chastity are masturbation, fornication, pornography, and homosexual practices.'
So to all here who claim to reject moral relativism, consider this - if masturbation, like “homosexual acts”, contraception and cohabitation is indeed “gravely disordered”, why is the church (including Zac and all of us here) not talking about it? It’s not as though nobody does it.

AURELIUS | 27 October 2012  

Hello Zac, thank you for reading my cent's worth. The following comments doesn't add much novelty to the debate; but I can't help recalling that Jesus nowhere condemns anyone for their sexual nonconformity (or sin, if one likes). Apart from the woman in adultery there is the woman at the well. Where he does "put the boot in"
sharply is in critiquing the casuistic attitude of orthodox male Jewry toward ridding oneself of (personally inconvenient) conjugal arrangements. Is this in any way do do with "illicit" sexual gratification , or rather with the demands of honour over gratification - in the context of a serious contract of mutual support? I don't see anything here - oner way or other - about excoriating "lust" of "illicit" sex, but a lot about justice and fairness. Given that Jesus consorted with whores, Terry Eagleton was well to remark in his Gifford lecture: "[Jesus] was remarkably relaxed about sex".

Fred Green | 27 October 2012  

@Zac: Thank you for including a Chesterton quote.
@Aurelius: Perhaps you and I are reading different articles. This one isn't actually about sex itself, nor is it about Christians being obsessed with sex (despite the title), but rather with secular society's ideas of what faithful Christians think about sex; as you can see from the range of comments, the Christian view of sex is quite varied. If you would like to talk about sex directly, such as 2396 in the Catechism, I'd like to offer that (1) masturbation, pornography, etc. contravene the best part of a healthy sexual relationship: devoted love. And (2) chastity is not celibacy e.g. a wife and husband can be as raunchy as they like and still be chaste so long as their actions are loving towards each other. Finally (3) instead of thinking on sin and what not to do, perhaps it's healthier to look at what is the ideal to achieve (like aiming for the moon). The hard part is knowing the ideal and that's what this article is pointing to: a way of finding the eternal ideal, free from our contemporary standards.

KW | 27 October 2012  

Aurelius makes a very good point on masturbation, as an instance of traditional teaching. In a recent homily I heard that, among other things, Jesus' preaching was very often a re-iteration of ordinary good sense. To hold that masturbation is as serious as, say, paedophilia or homicidal sadism simply defies ordinary good sense, at any level. It's an outlandish extension of a corporate ecclesisatical drive to appropriate, for its exclusive control, things that are given - by God - to us to use as free, yet still responsible, individuals. There are limits to legitimate ecclesiastical control, just as there are to judicial (a thesis that didn't gain Jesus any brownie points with the Sanhedrin). What was Onan's sin: sowing his wild oats on the ground, or failing in serious familial duty to his dead brother, whose name could not otherwise be perpetuated through his children? It's not about genital "perversion", it's about betrayal of relatioship.

Fred Green | 28 October 2012  

Hi Michelle, it's quite possible that I have misunderstood Kirby's words; and that would be a very unfortunate situation. Perhaps you could point out where the misunderstanding lies?

On the other hand, I don't think it likely that I have mistaken Christian bigotry for ethics. A bigot is defined as: "a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially: one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance"
Whereas ethics is "is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct."

Based on these definitions, your suggestion that I am mistaking bigotry for ethics would be a category error. A person could be bigoted *about* their ethics, ie. being intolerantly devoted to it above all others; and in this case I must concede some fault, since I do tend to find utilitarianism and consequentialist ethics loathsome and intolerable.

But insofar as being bigoted *about* Christianity, and mistaking this for a system of ethics? No, I don't think I've made that kind of mistake yet.

Zac | 28 October 2012  

Thanks Osmund,
You're quite right; however, it is very difficult to assess actions on their own merits - much easier to appeal to consequences or other scenarios. I think it requires a sound ethical framework to really analyse a moral act.

Zac | 28 October 2012  

Thanks Fr John George, it's always nice to hear from someone who knows what I'm talking about even though we may not agree!
Personally I don't see a problem with an anthropocentric approach in the face of suffering. Flourishing is not guaranteed in life, and if we face a difficult situation, hopefully we can remember that it is better to suffer than to do wrong.

Zac | 28 October 2012  

Hi Aurelius,

you raise some good points.
With regard to masturbation, there is probably not much focus on it because people are not writing high-profile articles attacking the Church's teaching on it.
I don't think this ethical approach is 'schizophrenic'; rather, it rejects the kind of dualism that says you can do anything with your body and your mind/spirit/character will be unaffected. You are right that it focuses on actions, because actions are central to moral analysis. But, to take your point further, the ethical approach would also discourage people from fostering romantic same-sex relationships (even without sexual activity). Maybe that sounds even worse? I'm not sure.
In terms of 'full personhood', what I wanted (and probably failed) to convey is my opinion that both ethics, and more so religion, are profoundly radical in their approach to life, such that sexual matters ought to be minor by comparison. But the church is committed to society; it won't stop teaching, even though society does not grasp the full scale of the teaching on a personal level. By analogy: It's like becoming an athlete vs managing an obesity epidemic (in terms of all human problems, not homosexuality specifically).

Zac | 28 October 2012  

Zac I reject 'schizophrenic' epithet also, as the term schizophrenic denotes psychotic delusional behaviour[not split personality or dualism], 'Schizophrenic' is often confused wrongly with split personality viz multiple personality syndrome[MPS]. 'Schizophrenia' and MPD are vastly different pathologies with differentiated diagnostic symptomatology, prognosis and treatments. 'Schizophrenic' in common parlance is oft and wrongly used to denote split personality [possibly due to Greek derivation of schizo,viz 'split'[in schizophrenia, schizo= split from reality and flight to fantasy; versus dissociative 'split' personality[each personality dissociation or clusters may each be well adjusted to reality without delusional thinking within that very 'alter ego' parameter! Such convincing personality splits, may go unnoticed by casual observers, unlike true schizopherenics with their delusions of grandeur,hallucinations etc.

father john george | 28 October 2012  

ZAC, are you serious now about the control of romantic desire as an ethical value? Doesn't "control" really amount to the antithesis of romance? Consider the mystical writings of St Jojn of the Cross and his nocturnal imaginings hinting at an erotic love towards Jesus. I think it's exactly this loss of imagination and soul that's killed romance and told gay people that their desires are not valid, they are intrinsically disordered - and so this has led to a buried and seedy underworld of promiscuous sex and the negative aspects many people refer to as "the homosexual lifestyle". From what I've seen of "the gay community" - it's the people with mature emotional and romantic connections that don't resort to this destructive and detached way of dealing with their situation.

AURELIUS | 29 October 2012  

I was not going to add anything, as we seem to be heading towards arguing about how best to fight our way out of a paper bag. My feeble understanding in brief: we are made to live present to God in love, as He/She/It desires to be to us. We are also evolved to be exquisitely social; hence ethics and law. Sexuality is a gift of God - via evolution (see e.g Bronowski). Period. Sexual enjoyment HAS to be responsive to love for one's neighbour, as for oneself. No civilised person disputes this. But human sex is simply NOT contingent on creation myths (or deductions of "natural" law therefrom). To live as a sexually engaged Christian is to respect the wisdom of tradition but not to fetishise it, knowing that it too must evolve as self-knowledge evolves - as is God's immanent purpose for Creation (not just homo sapiens). Tradition has never been a museum exhibit; Catholic tradition is far more recent than Judaic and Hindu, and others. To demand unqualified assent to notions NOW known to be factually unfounded is to demand that Christians check in their brains at the church entrance. And this goes far beyond sex, it goes to traditionalism's wholesale diminishment of human dignity. Are we Catholics really plying the same line as, say, extreme Islamic fundamentalists who cannot feel secure unless ALL human society becomes theocratic to the last jot and tittle? Lefebvre was once quoted for his wish to return to the Mediaeval ethos. Sorry - it's not for me. I'm out of patience with this whole humbug - outside the church and/or inside.

Fred Green | 29 October 2012  

Hi Aurelius, I think the language and concepts of homosexual identity make it harder to understand traditional ethics, because they already contain ethical presumptions and conclusions. From the traditional ethical perspective there are no 'gay people' just people, with a variety of inclinations and desires, some of which include attraction to members of the same sex. In my experience, our present culture says that if you have such an attraction, it means you are gay, a different kind of person, and the best thing you can do is embrace this identity. This is essentially an ethical perspective from the present culture. Traditional ethics doesn't engage with the 'identity' or the label. It just says, with regard to a particular desire for sexual intimacy with a person who is of the same sex, that it cannot replace the fulfillment that comes from marriage and procreation. Obviously, there are people who do not want the latter and may be willing to discard it. There are also people who want it, but cannot achieve it. Obviously, this perspective is foreign to the modern worldview. But I'm not sure that the modern worldview is very sound, after all.

Zac | 29 October 2012  

Hi Fred, Natural law is derived from observations and experience of human nature. It is not derived from any kind of creation myth. We know from observation what is required for a plant to flourish, what is required for an animal to flourish; yet somehow when it comes to humans we are horribly confused and unable to make headway? As a very simple example: observation and experience tell us that friendship brings a unique kind of fulfillment to human beings, contributing to their overall flourishing. We can therefore say that friendship is 'good for us'. Without friendship, a human will be less fulfilled. Friendship cannot be substituted for anything else (money, work, beauty, knowledge) any more than iron in your diet can be substituted for calcium. A misanthrope may not want friends, but it doesn't change the fact that he would be more fulfilled if he could find some. Someone who says "I'd rather work more and earn money, than waste money and time socialising" is undermining his own fulfillment. His choice and actions are therefore bad/ill/evil for him.

Zac | 29 October 2012  

Aurelius! Your misplaced allusion to the San Juanistic use of erotic romance poetry epitomises at least 'romance control' that you abhor. St John penned other treatises on the gradual divestment of emotions/affectivity in the ascent to the peak of union with God[all after Dark Night of Senses and Spirit, with their experiences of "nada!" or nothingnes or at minimum aridity. Your erotic nuances are mere weak insipid analogates of the real union of the 'will of the proficient with the will of god at the summit of Divine Union. The erotic analogy though inadequate for the real spiritual marriage at the heights, obviously breaks down, if taken as literal fleshly eros. The soul still embodied-even though though 'abstracted' by divine union from corporeality[a result of active and passive purgations in 'the Nights of Senses and Spirit' Thus the soul has no psycho-emotional attributes to indulge in erotic romanticisms let alone any coital ecstasy, The psycho physical baggage having been jettisoned by excruciating purgations[Yet soul not disembodied as at death].

father john george | 29 October 2012  

Hello Zac, 1st: I find it a puzzle that you define early on "good" vs. "evil" in that most relative of terms, human flourishing. (NT: "Why do you call me good? No-one is good except God alone"). Or perhaps, like Nietzsche, you subscribe to a substratum of value "beyond good and evil". 2nd: I disagree that we, as a species that has survived and even "flourished" - so far - are confused about the conditions for a life of dignity and worth. 3rd: "Law" is a very different concept to a jurist than it is to a scientist; some moral philosophers (notably Thomists) should make up their minds whether their concept of natural "law" is prescriptive (jurisprudential) or descriptive (empirical). When they truly know the difference and cease moving the goalposts, at convenience, as to what they mean by "law"; then by all means let them enter, and hopefully dominate convincingly, debates about what it takes to flourish and grow into the presence of God. Till then, this particular heretic remains unswayed. What matters? Not into whose - or which - orifice I thrust my penis (or whether it's even a genital encounter!) but whether there exists the love for the Other that brings me and them nearer to God who claims us PERSONALLY (not closer to a traditionalist's simulacrum).

Fred Green | 29 October 2012  

Gosh, no wonder so many people grappling with sexual orientation issues resort to suicide - the issues of this "tradition ethics" create an impossible conundrum. I'm not advocating any black and white, gay/straight mentality, but eventually someone must be honest with themselves. I don't engage with identity labels either, but if the bottom line is that same-sex relationships "cannot replace the fulfilment that comes from marriage and procreation" then why is this issue so controversial? I don't think people in same-sex relationships are trying to replacement traditional marriage - they are just living the best way they can given their circumstances.

AURELIUS | 29 October 2012  

Aurelius, I would be surprised if the study of ethics led anyone to commit suicide. Why is this issue controversial? From my point of view it is not. Others (on both sides) may disagree, some because they seek to return the entire culture to a Christianised set of moral norms, others because they view those same moral norms as anathema to their personal values and/or social goals. Personally I think it is best to just seek the truth and not worry about controversy. When I first started thinking about this issue (some years ago) I was loathe to delve into it. But I wondered what I would say if a friend came to me with a confused sense of sexual orientation and wanted to talk about it. What would I say? Just repeat what I've heard from the culture about being true to yourself and 'this is who you are'? How do I know the culture is right? So I started examining some of these issues, right down to the nature of desire itself. If I hadn't done that, I would still be awkwardly repeating cultural messages, which for me would be a cop-out.

Zac | 29 October 2012  

I think the original point of Zac’s article was, namely that sexual ethics is not qualitatively different from ethics about any other area, and that if we wish to debate about what is the good where planetary ecology or the economy or animal welfare or consumption are concerned, and why it is the good, we must logically apply the same considerations to sex and human relationships. I don’t see a difficulty with that. I just think the “natural law” and Aristotelian “final cause” concepts are not proven or determinative. Either way, I think we can all easily fall into asserting more than we actually know and I think Zac should not be so confident.

smk | 29 October 2012  

Fred: I seem to be more of a neo-Aristotelian than a Thomist.

In ethics good and evil are indeed relative to human nature...because we are human beings. Would you rather know what is good for a spider?

RE 'God alone is good', as I pointed out, good in an ethical context means 'good for human beings' It does not mean 'this human is good'.

Regarding 'law': it is an empirical claim, but in a theocentric context may become normative also - I'm not a Thomist, so don't quote me. But basically, if God establishes the laws as creator (empirical) but also decrees we follow them (jurisprudential) then Thomists can have their cake and eat it too.

Personally I would start with the observation that everyone wants to be happy. The problem is that a) we don't know how and b) most of us are pretty messed up in some way or other. Ethics can teach us (a).

If you find someone who really doesn't want to be happy, okay, they don't need ethics then.

I wasn't kidding when I said there's a lot of baggage around ethics. Maybe we should rebrand it.

Zac | 29 October 2012  

Thank you, SMK. It's nice to see my argument dispassionately (not to mention accurately) represented. I'm reasonably confident only because I haven't yet found a superior alternative approach; plus, from my own experience, most criticisms seem to be due to misunderstandings (and cultural baggage) apart from the one you've mentioned: 'not proven'. Ethics is a practical discipline, and we're forced to rely on observation and experience. But with certain caveats, there's no reason why we couldn't do some long-term cohort studies to refine and strengthen our observations. Not sure how we'd measure 'flourishing', but in principle there's no real obstacle. In the meantime, I think a good approach is to look at the final ends of people's actions. It is from the knowledge of these ends that we may construct a cohesive set of 'goods' that fulfil our nature.

Zac | 29 October 2012  

Dear Zac, this is my last. I think (hope) we can retire in mutual Christian respect if in disagreement. Since I am a physicist, you won't be surprised that - whatever else about Aristotle is most deservedly enduring - I don't think physics was his best suit. Which brings me to my point at "law". No: the Thomists CANNOT have their cake and eat it - nor should they be coddled into the delusion they can, by the rest of us graciously pulling our punches. If a "law" is empirical (e.g. gravitation) then it is value-free. Or: can someone enlighten me on the ethics of celestial mechanics? No ethical inference can be drawn. If a "law" is juridical, then as we all know (in legislative Tradition) it is perennially subject to amendment as circumstancers change. So which is it to be? (I don't need an answer - it's purely rhetoric). What particuarly irks me is the later Thomists' (not Aquinas') smugness about, say, mathematics as the "queen of sciences" and similar mealy-mouthed clap-trap. Had some of them had to do real mathematics they would know - in their gut instead of out of a grab-bag of misconceptions - how tentative, rickety, provisional, all-too-self-deluding, all-too-HUMAN, the struggle for solid mathematical truth can be. And just so for every serious endeavour of our God-given spirit; the kaleidoscope of carnal love very much included.

Fred Green | 29 October 2012  

Fred, I also hope respect is a given! Though sometimes it doesn't come across in this medium. I enjoy discussing these things, even if we never end up in agreement. So I can't resist rephrasing my position - it might make more sense this way: Your car operates according to laws of physics, which are 'value-free'. Whether you maintain it or not, it will follow the physical laws. (So why do cars have service manuals?) Likewise human beings follow physical, biological, and 'psychological' laws. Note that psychology is 'logic of the soul', and overlaps with 'human nature' - qualities we are born (natus) with. So whence come the ethical inferences? Unlike a car, we have a built-in psychological drive/impetus to seek happiness/fulfillment. It is only relative to this impetus that ethical inferences make sense. Leaving aside God for a moment, the universe is 'value free', because ethics is relative to the human drive for happiness. So Natural Law is like laws of physics in your car. But the fact is that humans seek happiness and reliable transport, hence we have ethics and service manuals, informed by value-free laws, so we can achieve our goals. Ethics=human service manual!

Zac | 30 October 2012  

Zac, I've just returned from the fabulous annual Christus Rex Pilgrimage from Ballarat to Bendigo, so I've just tuned into this discussion. Very well done - both in your post and your courteous but politely devastating reply comments. My strong impression from the comments is simply that hostile readers here simply have no idea what Zac (and the Christian tradition) is on about. I don't say that condescendingly - how could they be informed, since that tradition is so widely misrepresented? So all I have to say to these people is: please try to walk a mile in your enemy's shoes, before you sail into criticism of Zac's piece. An excellent start is, for example, Ed Feser's book "Aquinas" - both the bits on final causality and the chapter on ethics. Only if you grasp what Feser (and Aquinas/Aristotle) is on about here do you have standing to challenge Zac's thesis.

HH | 30 October 2012  

Thanks HH, a friend just returned from the same pilgrimage. In terms of a Neo-Aristotelian ethics, I would recommend David Oderberg's Moral Theory: a Non-Consequentialist Approach. It's a bit challenging at first, as the author critiques the various forms of moral subjectivism, skepticism, etc. But after that the really interesting stuff starts. You're entirely correct about the tradition being misrepresented, HH, including by people within the church. Unfortunately it's a nuanced theory that is easily collapsed into something more basic.

Zac | 31 October 2012  

Agreed, Zac - David Oderberg's work is also a great way to start. He and Feser are doing a wonderful job reviving the Aristotelian/Thomist traditions in metaphysics and ethics, and mercilessly skewering contemporary "mainstream" philosophy for the sham that it is. It's a great time for young Catholics to be studying philosopy - if they're pointed in the right direction.

HH | 31 October 2012  

I'm not buying into this generic "there's no such thing as gay people - just people" concept. Catholic teaching does recognise that homosexual people exist. And as for putting tradition ethics on some sort of pedestal, if we out traditional medicine on the same grounding, we'd still be using kerosene to bathe people's wounds.

AUREIUS | 31 October 2012  

Oh well, Zac - still here. Reading an operating manual may hint at my acting in evaluation of whether or not I should care for my car. If I neglect it of course the consequences are obvious to common sense. Because nuclear physics is value-free (not what cultural relativists seem to believe either) doesn't mean I am not entitled to make the ethical choice not to sell nuclear warheads to terrorists. But the imputation of ethical meaning and moral value is nowhere to be read off the "natural laws" of nuclear physics. Again, they are not prescriptive. Only a moral agent can import ethics and value into any contingency related to those laws. As to the manual analogy, it avails me little if the manual for my VW Golf is a beautifully crafted, illuminated scholarly and literal translation of the German instructions for the 1937 VW Beetle. But that doesn't matter, evidently, as long as the one crucial operating instruction is heed: never shove a banana up the exhaust. Traditionalists do not seem to envisage the notion that humanity is a work in progress not just spiritually (the Mystical Body), but psycho-somatically. Of course our propensity to evil as to good has changed little since Aristotle; few Christians of whichever persuasion are so deluded. But the conception of what is good (torturing unrecanting heretics to death?) against what is evil (charging interest on loans?) has changed somewhat. So have our perceptions of embodiment and the dignity (liberty-with-responsibility) of a person's spirit AND body. To paraphrase Galileo: it would not behove Divine Wisdom to endow us with such critical faculties as we possess, merely to forbid their exercise.

Fred Green | 31 October 2012  

Glad you're still here Fred, even if we don't get anywhere. I used to think it was impossible to demonstrate ethical conclusions objectively, because they depend on people's desires. Eg. cyanide will kill a human, but we can't say that eating cyanide is 'a bad idea' objectively, because maybe the person eating it wants to die, in which case eating cyanide is a good way to achieve their goal. If someone said 'eating cyanide is bad/wrong' I would reply 'from whose point of view?' So far so good? An important step in my ethical conversion was realising that in my experience human actions are motivated by the desire for 'happiness'. By inference, all human actions have this motive. Is this inference a problem? I'm yet to find countervailing evidence... So now we can say that even if a person desires cyanide, it is 'bad/wrong' relative to his underlying desire for happiness. I think this is pretty simple and common sense (like the car manual). But people look at ethics with an either/or perspective, expecting it to be either independent of human desire, like gravity, or entirely dependent on human desire, like personal taste.

Zac | 31 October 2012  

Sorry for multiple posts Fred. But with regard to your VW example, 'banana up the tailpipe' is, all things considered, a pretty good line. If we are changing/evolving in morally significant ways, how are we supposed to know? It seems that people have always wanted to do things that are bad for them or for others or both. You could be right that we have changed since Aristotle, in morally significant ways. But I'm not sure how to determine this, or what evidence justifies a deviation from the ethical method. Past inconsistencies and errors don't refute the method any more than contemporary ones do. Unfortunately it is the human condition. Anyway, I concede it is possible that the times are a'changin, so in the end we're just betting on different outcomes, I suspect.

Zac | 31 October 2012  

The problem with this discussion from an "objective ethical basis" is that the arguments range from aspects that are objectifiable, to ones that are not (i.e. that our sexuality/identity/orientation is chosen or born with) Until we concede that there is a lot about sexuality that we don't know, I think we should at least declare a moratorium and not do further damage.

AURELIUS | 01 November 2012  

Aurelius: I don't think anyone seriously thinks sexual attraction is 'chosen'. And I'm sure everyone would agree that when we act on our sexual attractions we do so voluntarily. The real 'unknown' is whether acting on one's sexual attraction is compatible with one's overall flourishing. I don't see how a moratorium helps make that decision; either we act or don't act, and if we're wrong we suffer the consequences. The decision is unavoidable, and seeking the best possible decision is the domain of ethics.

Zac | 01 November 2012  

And once again the debate comes full circle - same issue again. Church teaching makes it clear that acting on this sexual attraction is moral and valid for married heterosexual couples - but intrinsically disordered for homosexuals. I suspect this harsh moral line is what has created the current fundamentalist attitude held by the so called gay lobby.
I don't see it as en ethical issue, but something which has become a cultural taboo.

AURELIUS | 01 November 2012  

Hi Zac, I feel guilty (a little bit) for my tailpipe sarcasm - too good not to use; I assure you it was but a naughty afterthought. I also realise I've strayed from your article. I revisited Bronowski's Ch 12 in "Ascent of Man". You would find nothing in conflict with your position (rally it ought to be read after Ch 11). I read him rather differently. Yes; human sexuality arose in the context of reproduction. Still there is no logical reason to assume sexual expression cannot be a creative agent other than in breeding. All romantic literature, music, the richness of beloved Biblical allegories, attest to an eclectic sexual ethos. Not as if a peacock must ONLY display immediately before intercourse with a peahen - and ONLY to arouse her to impregnation. Any sense of its (God-given) beauty must not be otherwise be exhibited as an expression of joie de vivre. You seem to follow an anthropocentric utilitarianism in your natural-law ethics. Quite honestly and subject to the same Gospel you love, I do not. Your interpretation is neither (a) uniquely conformant to Godly human living, (b) uniquely incontrovertible philosophically. I don't say it's wrong, it's just a bit thin vis a` vis what being human means. Kirby's ethics (as a devout Anglican) overlaps maybe more than 99%. Are you implicitly asserting that because he differs from natural-law dogma on the 1%, that vitiates his integrity - more deeply, his life? I am sure you don't but the inference lurks there.

Fred Green | 02 November 2012  

Zac: time may be up on this thread. I'm less concerned now to criticise as to try to remark on "flourishing". Suppose we face extinction by asteroid (more likely is extinction by rapacity but that brings moral complications). How to make sense of it: would God be saying "hard luck, time's up; nothing personal"; or would we impute to God some inconceivably larger need and purpose for us and our world? I'd prefer, had I the required hope, to go out on the latter note. The brute fact of asteroid extinction is value-free; the human, irreducibly spiritual, response could have everything to do with flourishing even if we don't survive to flourish (as before). That's as much as I can extrapolate from Gaita, on how we deal with good and evil. It is not necessarily a function of professed belief and assent to a systematic ethics, as of presence before God - in the place where one stands. A Hindu might stand there equally well. It has to do with John the Baptist: "I must decrease, He must increase". This came to mind as one of the most powerful statements about flourishing. True to form, John prefigures the dynamic of Flourishing that forms the substrate for the Cross. It seems to me that natural-law or ANY OTHER, more "liberal", "secular" or "modernist" conception of human flourishing has no purchase on this; while the reverse is absolutely the case when a person is unconditionally open to the divine - whatever their creed or sexuality.

Fred Green | 02 November 2012  

Not all evill is evil some evill are necessary good because they lead one to the truth. So looking at it superficially it could appear bad. Celibacy is a choice. And everyperson as the capacity to make choices either for love or personal greed. Emphasis should be place by the church on morality now more than ever in this age of modern paganism because a pure heart will necessary be selfless, just charitable etc. Homosexual tendencies just like heterosexual tendencies is not evill. homosexual person should be loved and respected but homosexual act just like heterosexual act outside marriage is evil because it does not obey the natural law untill we understand what sex really is. in line with the positive natural law and not what we want it to be we will never make progress.

jeffery omorodion | 04 November 2012  

Fred (great discussion!) the main problem with utilitarianism is that it doesn't seem to recognise that the things we need to make us happy are irreducible and cannot be substituted. But the happiness/fulfilment from friendship is different from that which comes from work, or knowledge, or the appreciation of beauty, or any other 'good' we pursue and value for its own sake. We need to pursue all these good things, or at least be open to them, and not contravert them. I use this ethical system simply because it is the best I've found; none of the others convinced me either with their logic or their usefulness. Though it may seem thin, from simple premises it becomes quite rich and intricate, like mapping the coastline of our human nature. Living a Godly life is much simpler, and much more demanding: love God and do what you will, with the caveat that you must do it for love of God, right?

I don't know Kirby, but even if he holds 99% of the same moral conclusions, he's not arriving at those conclusions by the same method, hence this disagreement. I want to share the method!

Zac | 05 November 2012  

It's interesting how the article discusses obsession with sex, and how it's not just about sex, then many people started discussing sexual issues and others replied that they's missed the point.
So basically, everything is about sex - it's the mysterious Higgs boson particle of humanity that we still can't explain.
But we try and explain it away in grandiose philosophical terminology and magisterial babble.

AURELIUS | 05 November 2012  

Aurelius, I don't think you can dismiss a discussion that involves to some degree the way in which we can, often do or ought, arrive at an ethics of sex and sexuality, as "grandiose" or "magisterial babble". Yes, we shouldn't confine ourselves or descend to mere jargon but I don't think that means we cannot talk about the philosophy behind or about sex. I would agree with a proposition that sex-awareness, sex-desire, sex-experience etc all take up pivotal places in our psyche in some way or degree and that it's a complex subject none of us may entirely understand or feel comfortable with. But if someone proposes a position that there is a unique way to arrive at a valid sexual ethic, then what we have to engage with is whether such a proposition is sound or true or whether there are several ways and several equally valid ethical conclusions. Granted, the ES bulletin board doesn't necessarily elicit a full and tightly cogent discussion of this, but clearly quite a number of people have had different things to say and they illustrate, at least, the non-self-evidentiary nature of Zac's proposition and the diversity of others'. So, not meaningless babble after all!

smk | 05 November 2012  

Fred, regarding your comment about the asteroid, I'm not sure if I follow, but it reminded me of a line attributed to Socrates either as question or comment: "Is it better to do wrong or to suffer?" The answer is that it is better to suffer, because in doing wrong we ourselves contravene the very principles that we know to be true and good, and thus harm ourselves doubly. So the pursuit of flourishing can lead even to self-sacrifice and death, without contradiction. If love of others puts us in harm's way we can continue undaunted because the truth and goodness of our path is assured, and whatever incidents or obstacles we come across are incidental to it. I think that's what we see in someone like St Maximillian Kolbe (and many others). They knew the path that leads to life and flourishing; the fact that they were killed while walking that path is incidental to it. But instead, most of us will look at the incidental costs and obstacles, and choose to change our path instead.

Zac | 05 November 2012  

SMK, my point is not so much that the discussion is meaningless - it's just that it leaves everyone who's contributed to the discussion exactly where they started. No-one seeks to understand the other, no-one appears to be moved, changed by the other. It becomes like politics - you state your position and you defend it at all costs (Never concede fault or doubt) But any discussion on human relationships/sexuality is messy and while people might be confused about a passing "bro-mance" or "man-crush", others may be caught in the trap of the homosexual lobby's "butt-sex dictatorship".

AURELIUS | 06 November 2012  

Now that we've all obsessed with sex yet again, can we get back to what Michael Kirby was talking about and what Zac chose to ignore and what Moira pointed out in the second post? By that I mean 'the real moral questions in our society and in our world'. For a start, let's move from the all-absorbing genitals to the gut, and ponder the fact that one fifth of all child deaths is due to diarrhoea, that diarrhoea is the cause of 1.5 million child deaths per year, that half of those deaths occur in our part of the world (South Asia, East Asia, and the Pacific), and that those deaths are preventable, and then ask ourselves where our priorities should lie. www.unicef.org/health/files/Final_Diarrhoea_Report_October_2009_final.pdf

Ginger Meggs | 10 November 2012  

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