Why meditate on Aquinas's analysis of sexual morality?

When the issue of gay marriage first hit my radar, perhaps ten years ago, my first inclination was, "Well, why not?"

But I wanted to understand why others might object to it. And I had already encountered Aquinas's theorizing on sexual morality. So I have returned again and again in my thoughts to his arguments, because Aquinas is clearly one of the most brilliant people who has ever lived, and nothing he wrote should be dismissed lightly. Furthermore, Aquinas's argument was certainly not based on any "bigotry" against homosexuals, since, as noted in the post above, it condemns masturbators and heterosexual promiscuity far more strongly than it does a committed homosexual relationship.

As I have noted in that post, I think Aquinas erred. But I am epistemically humble enough that my thoughts return to his arguments repeatedly, to see if I have missed something. (The idea that I am epistemically humble may appear ridiculous to some of you, but realize what I mean: I test my ideas, again and again and again, against those of Lao-Tzu, Buddha, Plato, Aristotle, Jesus, Paul, Plotinus, Augustine, Avicenna, Aquinas, Maimonides, Leibniz, Berkeley, Hegel, Green, Bosanquet, Collingwood, Whitehead, Oakeshott, Voegelin, MacIntyre, Taylor, and so on: and often I am in a complete muddle as to which of them is correct on some issue. But it is true that when I encounter someone who has read one book by some philosophical ignoramus like Richard Dawkins and therefore sees himself as an authority able to dismiss all alternative metaphysical views, yes, I am pretty intolerant of such rubbish, precisely because of my humble, lifelong engagement with serious metaphysical thought.)

So, although my initial intuition was that Aquinas got this wrong, I return to him repeatedly to check my intuition, and I often find myself in prayer, asking that I not get this issue wrong. One thing I know for sure: those who base their opposition to SSM on reasoning like that of Aquinas are not bigots, and moves on the part of SSM proponents (with whose conclusion
I agree!) to liken their opponents to racist opponents of inter-racial marriage are themselves an expression of hatred and contempt for religious traditionalists.

14 comments:

  1. The vast majority of SSM opponents have not read a lick of Aquinas. They uncritically inherited anti-gay views from their religious tradition.

    Probably not unlike how most SSM proponents uncritically inherit pro-gay views from their liberal tradition: "If they're not directly hurting anyone else..."

    Perhaps the proponents feel they have the moral high ground because they are more aligned with the mainstream. Few of us had to study Aquinas in school, but we all studied Locke.

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    1. Yes, Matt, you are correct. I am not sure how this relates to my post, however: I want to consider the BEST argument countering my own view! Are you suggesting if the average SSM opponent hasn't read Aquinas, I shouldn't either?

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    2. I was only responding to your last sentence. I have more sympathy for the ignorant SSM proponents who call their opponents bigots than I do for the ignorant SSM opponents.

      But now that I think about it, that is probably my deeply infused liberalism showing...

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    3. "But now that I think about it, that is probably my deeply infused liberalism showing..."

      Absolutely: liberalism is an alternative religious view to, say, Christianity.

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  2. Considering many if not most religious traditionalists did oppose inter-racial marriage at one time, it doesn't seem like such an expression so much as an observation.

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    1. Totally made up BS Lord! For a period of time in a recovering society that had practiced race-based slavery, a number of people opposing inter-racial marriages, grasping at straws, invented religious justifications for it.

      Consider: "Searching the writings of Plato and Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas, Maimonides and Al-Farabi, Luther and Calvin, Locke and Kant, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., one finds that the sexual union of male and female goes to the heart of their reflections on marriage but that considerations of race with respect to marriage never appear." )http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2014/04/marriage-reason-and-religious-liberty-much-ado-about-sex-nothing-to-do-with-race)

      That's right: NOTHING about inter-racial marriage from any of the important thinkers of any traditional religion. (Buddha and Lao-Tzu could have been included here too.) Nothing.

      You are spouting made up BS, Lord.

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    2. If I recall, Kant was very contemptible of the idea of marriage, holding the sexual part out as hedonistic or something. His idea of it as a contract was simply nuts, too.

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    3. OK, maybe so, but this seems off topic.

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  3. There seems to be a false analogy under a lot of the arguments I hear. It is this: straight people are allowed to marry whoever they want and gays aren't. But that's not really true is it? I might want to marry your wife, I might want to marry Warren Buffett if it gets me half his estate. The same rules in fact apply to us all.
    I take it as a given that allowing an adult couple to marry is in general good for that couple. But is it good for the social order? I am pretty sure that in the case of SSM it is. I am pretty sure that with children it isn't. So I face no slippery slope counter, because I do notmake an argument based on individual rights or legal symmetry.

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    1. That is pretty much my view too.

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  4. "When the issue of gay marriage first hit my radar, perhaps ten years ago, my first inclination was, 'Well, why not?'"

    Interesting. As I understand it, you are a Catholic, so I'd normally think this would be minority opinion among us (I'm find with marriage equality, too). What did you think of the marriage privatization argument when you first encountered it?

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    1. Samson, I attend an Episcopalian church and sometimes a Buddhist temple.

      Your second question: coming soon.

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  5. "Samson, I attend an Episcopalian church and sometimes a Buddhist temple."

    How very ecumenical of you. Ever since I learned about the Hindu concept of "all paths to God", I've kind of come to consider all religions as being valid in the sense they are different facets of the same thing ("religions" like Co$ don't really count, though).

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    1. I am not trying to be ecumenical, but these are the venues that I ahppen to have wound up in! Yes, I like this Hindu idea as well.

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