Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Judge Vaughn Walker - Proposition 8

I like Ross Douthat’s [1]cutting through the misnomer of calling marriage “natural” as we have understood it in the West, when in reality it has really been divine or “supernatural” as a result of the Christian foundation of Europe and the West. The pre-Christian or non-Christian understanding of the word “natural” vis a vis matrimony has been polygamy not monogamy. The default mode of child-rearing is often communal, rather than two parents nurturing their biological children.

Douthat wrote: “Nor is lifelong heterosexual monogamy obviously natural in the way that most Americans understand the term. If ‘natural’ is defined to mean ‘congruent with our biological instincts,’ it’s arguably one of the more unnatural arrangements imaginable. In crudely Darwinian terms, it cuts against both the male impulse toward promiscuity and the female interest in mating with the highest-status male available.”

With this overturning of Proposition 8 in California in favor or gay marriage, we have reached a turning point. The United States – and with it Europe – has ceased to be a nation founded on the dignity and rights of the human person, not only as equal but as different as man and woman. It is now founded on individuals with whom relationality is accidental.

The wording of Judge Vaughn Walker in his conclusion goes: “To determine whether a right is fundamental under the Due Process Clause (14 Amendment), the court inquires into whether the right is rooted ‘in our nation’s history, legal traditions, and practices.” Of course, what is found in the history, tradition and practices of the United States from 1620 until the Constitution is a lived Christianity that exploded within the so-called “First Great Awakening” that propelled the nation to revolution with Great Britain, then the greatest power on earth at that time. All of that was engendered and dynamized by the experience and consciousness of a lived Christian faith. Consider the remark of John Adams that he wrote in Mary Wollstonecraft’s book “The French Revolution:” “If [the] empire of superstition and hypocrisy should be overthrown, happy indeed will it be for the world; but if all religion and all morality would be over-thrown with it, what advantage will be gained? The doctrine of human equality is founded entirely in the Christian doctrine what we are all children of the same Father, all accountable to Him for our conduct to one another, all equally bound to respect each other’s self love.”[2]

From another direction – enlightenment reason - the most celebrated historian of the American Revolution, Gordon S. Wood, searched for the source of the American Revolution that occurred “without an immediate oppression, without a cause depending so much on hasty feeling as theoretic reasoning.”[3] “As early as 1775 Edmund Burke had noted in the House of Commons that the colonists’ intensive study of law and politics had made them acutely inquisitive and sensitive about their liberties. Where the people of other countries had invoked principles only after they had endured ‘an actual grievance,’ the Americans, said Burke, were anticipating their grievances and resorting to principles even before they actually suffered. ‘They augur misgovernment at a distance and snuff the approach of tyranny in every tainted breeze.’”[4]

Having such sensitivity to personal rights both because of Christian faith and enlightenment reason (consider the universal acceptance of Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” and “The Rights of Man”), one would suspect that the right to homosexual union would be in flower in the American consciousness. But such was not the case. Consider the question of the status of the homosexual in pre-Revolutionary America. “The Body of Liberties approved by the Colony of Massachusetts Bay in 1641 welcomed refugees seeking to escape "the Tiranny or oppression of their persecutors" or famines or wars. For several hundred years America was to serve as a haven for minorities threatened with religious or political persecution in other lands.

“What then did it offer the homosexual? Homosexuals in the original 13 colonies were universally subject to the death penalty, and that in earlier times, for a brief period in one colony, lesbians had been liable to the same punishment for relations with other women.”[5]

Don't misunderstand this. There is no advocacy here to kill homosexuals, but to probe how homosexuality stood in tandem with the emerging dignity and rights of the human person.The country was built on dignity and rights, but not on mere equality and homosexual rights.

What seems to be taking place now is reversal and decline in everything good and true that had taken place in the development of the body politic in the United States only now mouthing platitudes of dignity of persons with equal rights. The rhetoric of Judge Walker is equality, dignity and rights but the foundation of same as experienced and conscious in the history of the United States is muted.

This goes hand in hand with what Benedict XVI has been saying for his entire intellectual/theological life: that reason has been consistently dumbed down to positivistic technological reason. The West may have won the economic war with Communism, but not the ideological. He wrote: “The essential problem of our times, for Europe and for the world, is that although the fallacy of the communist economy has been recognized – so much so that former communists have unhesitatingly become economic liberals – the moral and religious question that it used to address has been almost totally repressed. The unresolved issue of Marxism lives on: the crumbling of man’s original uncertainties about God, himself, and the universe. The decline of a moral conscience grounded in absolute values is still our problem today. Left untreated, it could lead to the self-destruction of the European conscience [and the American], which we must begin[6] to consider as a real danger – above and beyond the decline predicted by Spengler.”

The real meaning of “natural” is Christian since Jesus Christ is the meaning of man. How could it be otherwise if God Himself has assumed a complete human nature, human will, human intellect, human body to His one divine Person? Jesus Christ is the meaning of man, and therefore He is the meaning of “natural.” Therefore, Ross Douthat recognizes that the presentation of marriage as we have known it in the West cannot be called “natural” without losing the argument. Either we understand that the meaning of man is Christ, and with that the meaning of marriage and sex, or we become trivialized in incoherence.

This, however, is not religious theocracy. As historically evident, it is exactly the opposite. It is precisely Christianity that demands the separation of the institutions of Church and State because the human person, as “another Christ,” must exercise the freedom of self-determination in order to be self-gift. Consequently, true Christian experience demands that Christianity not be imposed but freely accepted, one by one.

This was the precise content of the Third Temptation of Christ. “The struggle for the freedom of the Church, the struggle to avoid identifying Jesus’ Kingdom with any political structure, one that has to be fought century after century.”[7]

Notice that we cannot make a cogent defense of heterosexual marriage using a reason working with first order abstraction as in science. The best we can come up with is equality as the pro-gays, and the opposition to the heterosexuality always wins the argument on the terrain of equality, permanence, good citizenship, etc. As Benedict has said for the last 4 years, we need to “broaden reason.” He means that reason has to be “widened” by the experience of the self as gift, or relation, which is the act of faith. That is, if the self does not transcend self by making the gift in the act of faith, the lights don’t go on for reason. Reason needs to see the self as “being” – which takes place only in the act of going out of self to receive Revelation (which is the Person of Christ). Faith is an act of obedience. It is not a facultative act so much as an anthropological act of self-gift, self-transcendence. Faith is not reducible to concepts and propositions. It is not contained in a book. It is the self in a state of self-transcendence. If one does not go out in the act of faith, the being of the self is not illuminated (transfigured as Christ in prayer on the mount, Lk. 9, 28), and we fail to understand the meaning of person as relation, i.e. as male and female. The profile of the person is determined by “hearing the Word.” If the Word is not heard and lived, reason is not broadened and is dumbed down to positivistic and reductive myopia – which is the state of the present debate on homosexuality and gay marriage.

[1] Ross Douthat, “The Marriage Ideal,” NYT op-ed Monday, August 9, 2010, A 19.

[2] David McCullough, “John Adams” Simon and Shuster (2001) 619.

[3] Gordon S. Wood, “The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787, Norton (1969) 4.

[4] Ibid 5.

[5] Louis Crompton, “Homosexuality and the Death Penalty in Colonial America,” Journal of Homosexuality, University of Nebraska (Lincoln) 1976 277.

[6] J. Ratzinger, “Without Roots,” Basic Books, (2006) 73-74.

[7] Benedict XVI “Jesus of Nazareth,” Doubleday (2007) 40.

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