Our Opponents’ Confessions
May 7th, 2013
Sometimes I hear a line of reasoning so bizarre that all I can do is look for the psychological issues behind it. I find this happening quite a lot with opponents of same-sex marriage, and the irony is that often their stated goal is to offer an objective justification for their beliefs, but what they deliver is so idiosyncratic, so utterly dependent on a strange and subjective inner life, that all they end up doing is proving their own irrelevance.
Look at three cases: Doug Mainwaring, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, and Robert George. Each of them says something that actually turns out to be true — true for them, true of them — but in a sad and sometimes baffling way.
Doug Mainwaring is one of NOM’s favorite homosexuals; he gives testimony against same-sex marriage. Apparently he married, had a child, left the family to be one of those hedonistic gays, and then reunited everyone under the same roof in a sexless relationship with his wife so that his offspring could be raised by Mom and Dad. And you know what? Fine. But then he writes this:
Over the last couple of years, I’ve found our decision to rebuild our family ratified time after time. One day as I turned to climb the stairs I saw my sixteen-year-old son walk past his mom as she sat reading in the living room. As he did, he paused and stooped down to kiss her and give her a hug, and then continued on. With two dads in the house, this little moment of warmth and tenderness would never have occurred. My varsity-track-and-football-playing son and I can give each other a bear hug or a pat on the back, but the kiss thing is never going to happen. To be fully formed, children need to be free to generously receive from and express affection to parents of both genders. Genderless marriages deny this fullness.
Well, one thing’s for sure. With Doug Mainwaring for his dad, that kid definitely needs a second parent in the house. Doug ought to be saying this in shame as a confession of his inadequate parenting. But it never occurs to him that many fathers — conservative, heterosexual fathers included — are quite comfortable giving their sons a kiss and a hug.
This, by the way, is another example of why we’ll win: another statement by another opponent guaranteed not to persuade, but to garner a reaction of what-planet-are-you-from?
The takeaway: When Doug Mainwaring talks about the limitations of having two fathers, he’s just telling us something about himself.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien
Former Cardinal Keith O’Brien of Scotland made the news into two completely different, shocking but not entirely surprising ways. First, he opposed same-sex marriage in the UK, calling it grotesque, analogizing it to slavery, and declaring same-sex civil unions to be:
…harmful to the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of those involved.
And less than a year later, O’Brien was forced to resign due to a long history of making unwanted sexual advances to priests, and for having been physically involved with one of his accusers for years.
Now that O’Brien has been humbled I can look at him with pity. He was so twisted by his beliefs that any half-relationship he could could dare to attempt would inevitably be “harmful to the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of those involved.”
The takeway: When Cardinal Keith O’Brien talks about the harm done by gay relationships, he’s just telling us something about himself.
Robert George is a distinguished Princeton professor who writes terrible, almost incoherent Natural Law arguments against homosexuality, birth control, and masturbation. His goal is to show that Catholic teaching can be derived rationally.
His work is a lot like what would happen if I heard about a Ryan Gosling kissing booth: my goal would be just to get there, no matter how labored, tortuous, or ridiculous the route. It’s the same way with Robert George and the view that masturbation is wrong: The Church says it is, so that’s his destination, and it doesn’t matter labored, tortuous, or ridiculous his reasoning, as long as he gets there.
Here are some key quotes:
The body is not rightly treated as a machine for having experiences…
[I]t is contrary to reason—bad and immoral—to sacrifice one’s psychosomatic integrity, or to instrumentalize a part of oneself, for the sake of some desired experience, whether it is getting drunk, enjoying a psychedelic drug trip or having an orgasm…
In masturbation and other non-marital sex acts, by contrast, ‘one does not choose to act for a goal which fulfills oneself as a unified, bodily person. The only immediate goal is satisfaction for the conscious self; and so the body, not being part of the whole for whose sake the act is done, serves only as an extrinsic instrument.’…
[Acts like masturbation] damage personal integrity insofar as those acts effect an existential alienation of the body from the conscious self by simply using the body as an experience-inducing machine. Thus, such behavior should, for moral reasons, be avoided.
In case that’s opaque, here’s my brief (and surely inadequate) summary:
- Having an integrated mind and body is self-evidently good. Thus anything which breaks that integration is bad.
- Masturbation means the mind is treating the body like an instrument for its conscious gratification, thus alienating the body from the mind and destroying that self-evidently good gratification, making it harmful and immoral.
- This is also true of gay sex or any other sex act that doesn’t culminate with a married penis in its married vagina.
Robert George’s logic on sex is unfathomable to me. I read his words but doubt my understanding because they so completely contradict the experience of my own life. It’s like reading an intricately-reasoned argument that you shouldn’t keep elephants in your house because they’re too small to keep track of; there’s no need to dismantle the argument line by line — it’s enough to answer, “Have you seen an elephant?” Or, in George’s case, “Have you had sex?”
Sex, with someone you love, purely for emotional closeness, does not split the mind and body. It unites them. It dissolves the barriers between body, spirit, and mind.
And masturbation? Masturbation is one way the mind discovers the body. It can be something you do to clean the pipes and stop your body from yelling at you, but it can also be — for adolescents, especially — a fundamental way of exploring your entire self. Not just mind, not just body, not just emotion, but all three at once.
So all I can do is wonder at the inner life of a man who not only came up with this reasoning, but who thought it would convince others. This speculation is worth what you paid for it, but here’s my best attempt: I can imagine a man who has been taught that masturbation is wrong, sinful, wicked. It exposes weakness of mind and character. He tries to abstain, but every time he gives in he’s hit with guilt, and his conscious mind feels betrayed by his body. And that, folks, is mind-body alienation.
The takeway: When Robert George talks about the morality of sex, he’s just telling us something about himself.
Of course, when all of us talk about sex or love or family, we’re really just telling people something about ourselves. We know this. The last few generations who’ve grown to adulthood know this (most of them, anyway). The only people who don’t know this, it seems, are our opponents.