Saturday, December 31, 2011

Reasonable and Holy: Engaging Same-Sexuality (2)

Quite a bit of disruption later I am returning to this book. Here I am offering some general impressions. One aspect of the character of the book is its attention to detail: I am not sure that I have the time to sift through the details.

Impression A: the first part of the book, Chapters 1-6 really annoyed me. I want to encourage any readers here who read the book to press on because it has gotten less annoying for me.

What's up with Chapters 1-6? In general it is the relentless negativity of the approach taken. Are children necessary for a valid marriage? No. Is sexual intercourse necessary for reproduction to take place? No. Are male and female together made in the image of God? No. Are male and female complementary of one another? No. Is 'complementary' a positive concept? No, it implies defects which are remedied by the one who is complementary. Are a man and a woman necessary for a marriage? No. On and on, always whittling marriage towards to the 'nothing buttery' of 'nothing but a faithful, lifelone, monogamous union'. Since sexual difference is not essential to the character of a couple in marital union such union is open to a same sex couple.

But to get to that point (IMHO) Haller skirts certain issues, and also offers some observations which, frankly, are weird.

One issue which is skirted is Scripture's own relentlessness in always speaking about marriage in terms of a man and a woman (or several women where polygamy is involved). Thus on page 15 where Haller argues that Jesus prohibition on divorce simultaneously downplays the role of procreation in marriage (because Jewish custom allowed divorce so a husband could replace an infertile wife) the fact that Jesus emphasises repeatedly the male/female and husband/wife differentiation in marriage is passed over.

Another issue is the possibility that complementariness between male and female is positive rather than negative. Husbands and wife bring gifts to the marriage union which makes the whole relationship greater than the sum of the parts. Far from one remedying defects in the other (though that may take place), each joined together makes for a productive contribution to life, not only in procreation but in work, in creativity, and in the building up of church and community. A related issue concerns the imago dei which Haller argues is complete in each individual and is undermined if we suggest (as some eminent theologians have done) that the image of God is also represented in a married couple. Haller simply overlooks (or skirts past) the possibility that the image of God is complete in individual persons and in married couples, especially when we consider the imago dei of the God who is Trinity or Unity-in-Diversity, which is imaged (to a degree) in a union of man and woman.

A further skirted issue concerns the physical complementarity of male and female. Here Haller argues that a 'tab and slot' approach is childish and barely worth discussing. But this approach itself is scarcely credible. The act of sexual intercourse is the act of complementary (in the sense of mutally corresponding parts, not in the sense of something defective being completed) male and female genitalia joining together, where such action can be mutally pleasuring and pleasurable as well as procreative, each part playing its part in drawing two bodies together into the intimacy and potentiality of 'one flesh'. From both a theological and a biological perspective the complementarity of male and female bodies are hugely important: without that complementarity there would be no human life. Life itself depends on this complementariness. To reduce its importance to the phrase 'tab and slot' is unconvincing.

All the way through these chapters Haller is arguing for the morality of couplings between humans, and this leads to the significant question whether there is any moral value attached to the differentiation between the members of the couple, i.e. to one being male and the other being female. Haller thinks there is no such value (because procreation is not essential to marriage, and because complementariness does not actually exist between male and female, rather supplementariness which can also exist between two men and two women). I suggest this focuses on the non-essentiality of procreation to invidividual marriages with loss of sight of essentialness of procreation to marriage in general. Some marriages do not lead to children but if all marriages led to no children the human race would die. If we accept that continuing the human race is a morally good thing then procreation is essential to achieving that moral good. If we accept that the well-being of the human race is better through stability of family life, that is, through as many couples rearing children as possible being faithful, stable, monogamous, life long married couples, i.e. it is a morally good thing that procreation occurs within marriage rather than without, then it is not a morally neutral matter that a married couple consist of precisely the differentiation which is most efficient in procreation, a male and a female.

There is, of course, another aspect here, which Haller definitely skirts. The moral perspective works at a human level: what do we humans think is moral and what do we think is not moral? But a theological perspective works at a divine level and asks, has God spoken on this matter and given an ordinance? Most Christians most of the Christian era have readily accepted that God has pronounced on the matter, and most still think so today: namely, irrespective of moral arguments about whether a man and a woman are necessary to constitute a marriage, God has deemed that it is to be so.

What is frankly weird? Here is an example: on p. 26-27 Haller has a shaded box headed 'Prongs and Holes' in the course of which he says, p. 26, 'a married couple are "united biologically" when they have sex. Speaking anatomically, the two bodies, however intimately embracing, do not actually enter into or connect with each other, or even one into the other, anatomically.' Yeah, right! This is playing with words: yes, technically the man does not (say) cut open the skin of the woman and then poke his finger into the wound; yes, 'topologically' (a word Haller uses) the above sentence can be read as true. But for ordinary uses of words, indeed, with respect to the word 'connection', for legal uses of words, sexual intercourse is connection, the man enters the woman, sex is biological uniting. Or, for an alternative consideration, imagine an adulterous man attempting to convince his angry wife that he did not actually connect with the other woman or enter her or biologically unite with her. Yeah, right!

Impression B: beyond the first six chapters (I have completed ten chapters to this point), Haller makes some telling and important points. Here I mention just two.

First, I like the way Haller takes on Robert Gagnon (and others), particularly in chapter 8 where he exposes difficulties in trying to offer 'a kind of Grand Unified Theoery of sexuality that will cover all of the various sexual offenses listed in Scripture.' I would be interested to see if Gagnon himself has made a response (I could not readily locate one via a Google search). Haller here demonstrates his knowledge of Scripture as well as his logic and his grace in willing to gently but firmly tackle the robustness (and, no doubt for many gays and lesbians, offensiveness) of Gagnon's arguments. I withhold final judgement here on who I think is right or wrong, not least because I would be closer to Gagnon than to Haller in how I understand Genesis 1-2 in themselves as chapters, and in their paradigmatic relationship to the rest of Scripture.

Secondly, I think Haller's best point and strongest argument in favour of same sex relationships being accepted in the church is made in chapter 7. Working from St. Paul's 'better to marry than burn' (1 Corinthians 7:9), that is 'Marriage, for Paul, was among other things a remedy for desire' Haller asks the question, 'So can we in our present day make a similar allowance for same-sex relationships?' (p. 59). He further says, p. 61, 'A more tolerant view within church or state does not necessitate the recognition of same-sex relationships as either marriage or matrimony, that is, as either civil or sacred in exactly the same was and to the same extent as mixed-sex marriage. But some form of recognized permanent commitment can be seen to be appropriate as an application of Paul's teaching that "it is better to marry than to burn" to a situation which Paul himself may well have found inconceivable.'

Here is, indeed, a reasonable point (sexual desire in most people is too strong to contain), a responsible question (what is the remedy for homosexual desire when celibacy is not a gift given to all?), and a moderate request (can some form of recognized permanent commitment be offered by the church?).

I shall continue reading.


  1. Thank you, Peter, for the careful reading and thoughtful responses. On the issue of "negativity" in those first chapters, I'm afraid that is part of the schema of attempting to address the various assertions and claims.

    I take your point on "complementary" but I think the problem may be in the word itself. "Supplementary" I can affirm -- but that opens the reality that any two people are supplemental to each other.

    The reason for that "weird" topological argument was a response to a person who made a topological claim made by Pakaluk.

    The nominalist in me still has some difficulties with your statement about fertility of all men and women versus particular couples. You may know that Aquinas made a similar argument for celibacy -- that the command to be fruitful and multiply was given to humanity as a whole (in persona Adam et Eva!) and as long as _some_ fulfill it it is fulfilled, thereby permitting celibacy. I am merely advancing this argument to include same-sex couples. (Aquinas would not approve, I'm sure!)

    I also remain concerned about seeing Biblical approbation of mixed-sex marriage as a necessary forbidding of SSM. It is quite true that the Scripture does not talk about same-sex marriage in any explicit way -- but this may well be part of the cultural reality of the times in which it was composed. It is the moral principle that underlies marriage that is at issue. Is that moral principle only to be found in the coupling of male and female? If so, why, and what is it? That, it seems to me, is the problem.

    Thanks again for your comments and thoughts. I value them highly!

    Wishing you a blessed New Year and Feast of the Holy Name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

  2. Wishes and blessings, returned Tobias!

    Yes, I appreciate there was a 'context' for your topological excursion.

    I will likely make a third post re the remainder of the book.