Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Metaphysics of Marriage

The New York Senate and Governor within the past 24 hours have just ratified legislation that will allow men to marry men and women to marry women. A couple of thoughts have occurred to me as I’ve considered what this means. First of all, it seems to me that we have been using the wrong terminology to explain this, at least from a Christian point of view. Note that I did not describe the legislation as allowing gays and lesbians to marry. The problem with using this language is that it reduces people down to an identity of sexual attraction, and even more so, to a sexual act. If all I am as a human being is an act, and you deny me my ability to engage in that act, then you are denying my ability to be fully human.

As Christians, we do not accept that view of anthropology. A Christian anthropology would argue that we are not our acts, and that the sum of our acts does not make us any more or less human. We are human beings by nature and acts, while they can add to or detract from the essence cannot alter that essence. To put it another way, it is not cogito ergo sum but rather sum ergo cogito, I am therefore I think (or even better, I act).

This brings up what is actually at the basis of the debate, at least from the Christian perspective. Fundamentally, Christians are working from a different set of propositions then the rest of the world. This has led to an increasing inability to discuss matters of morality, even within the Church herself. Whereas before, we dealt with a metaphysical system that had been in place since Plato and Aristotle, the modern world operates off the existentialism whose intellectual lineage contains Descartes, Nietzsche, Sartre, and Jean-Luc Nancy. Christians have slowly began trying to construct arguments that appeal to the existentialism that drives society, but has found it sorely lacking in causing intellectual conversion. David Carlin, writing for Crisis magazine, notes this discrepancy within the debate for gay marriage.

We as Christians need to understand that the debate about gay marriage cannot be won on the standards of the world. It will never convince people that gay marriage is wrong because it is sociologically unstable, bad for the raising of children, or, like the rest of fruit of the sexual revolution, will prove equally rotten in its consequences. While all these are true, they will not convince. We only win if we can convince that homosexual acts are immoral and immoral acts should be avoided. Immoral acts damage the human person and prevent them from living in harmony with God and man. When one person kills another person, it damages the murderer, hardening their ability to value human life (including their own), and wounds other people’s ability to rely on the murderer to do what is good for society. When one person commits adultery, they wound their ability to love and they destroy the ability of their spouse to trust. Sin is bad not because of a list that says it’s bad. That would be like saying arsenic is only bad because a label says it’s bad. No, sin is like arsenic. It is a poison upon the human being. Thus, a society, if it is concerned with creating an healthy environment where people can live out their rights and duties, then it ought to outlaw that which poisons humanity. That is why murder, larceny, fraud, assault and bigamy are outlawed. It was realized that these things are morally unacceptable and thus should be legally unacceptable. The problem for our society is quickly becoming the inability to recognize right from wrong. For this reason, gay marriage will continue to gain support as long as Christians fail to recognize the metaphysical crisis that lies at its foundation.