What About “Sexual Orientation”?

heartPicking back up my series on Christian sexual identity, we have to realize that the foundational issue in conversations about “gender roles,” homosexuality, and the public place of marriage is that of definition. For the progressive gender, sexuality, and the various institutional structures supporting them are to be defined by the individual’s desire. Now, this doesn’t simply mean the surface-level choices that one makes, though it does mean that often enough, but rather those deep-seated desires which then incentivize one’s actions. I’m not sure if it is still the preferred nomenclature, but not too long ago folks used to use the term “orientation” to name this concept. A person’s “sexual orientation” was either heterosexual, homosexual, or something else, and this orientation was an important way that they were to be classified, even getting down to their fundamental identity.

This debate over orientation vs. “what’s natural” is at the heart of the traditional marriage debate. In its crudest form, the traditional marriage position says that it doesn’t matter what an individual might feel about it, marriage is by definition the union of a man and a woman. The response has been to say that this definition is far too thin and doesn’t take into account all of the images and promises that we have been attaching to marriage for some time now. Some might point to the Protestant Reformation, with its emphasizing “mutual society” over procreation. Others might blame it on dating culture and no-fault divorce. Others might still point to the notion that marriage is now one of those ways in which people continue “the pursuit of happiness.” Either way, the issue is that marriage is not simply a societal institution for childbirth and rearing, but it is also a key way for people to find personal fulfillment.

And we should admit that this response has been mostly unanswered because it is (currently) unanswerable.

Now I don’t say this because I believe the argument is a good one. I don’t even agree with those folks who say we should quit arguing against it and quit trying to fight it politically. But still, the argument is so hard to answer because our entire society is ordered to promote individual fulfillment irrespective of external morality or social justice. Neither conservatives or liberals are terribly interested in challenging the larger framework of “personal fulfillment.” They both agree that it should be defined subjectively, and they both think that the government should (at the very least) not interfere with someone’s pursuit of subjective fulfillment. Perhaps this goes back to Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence, but the fact is that any pursuit of happiness which is detached from an objective natural order is bound to be constantly and internally revolutionizing, and this will always result in some progressing at the expense of others.

Defining personal identity as “orientation” is highly problematic and irrational for a number of reasons. First, it prioritizes the will, thus making other questions of morality and ontology wholly subjective. Secondly, orientation demands identity politics which leads to the permanent Balkanization of society. When everything is a competition between wills, then there cannot be a meaningful common good and you get a sort of spiritual civil-war. And thirdly, the methodology is unworkable, since it cannot be applied consistently.

My opponents would likely accept my first point of critique, simply deflecting it by saying that I’m assuming subjectivity is a bad thing. Isn’t the burden on me to prove the need for objective morality? Certainly this has been a protracted debate in the history of ideas, but it’s really quite a silly one. There can be no “social justice” apart from “justice,” and if you really think that concept should be allowed to change according to majority vote, then all I have to say in response is “Say it into the mic.” Speak up and let everyone know how you feel. Ever-changing morality is no morality. Ever-changing truth is no truth, and if there is no truth, then you really shouldn’t be trying to convince me of it or anything else.

My second point also carries a prima facie plausibility, but the debate will be over the nature of the cause. We hear constantly about the “division” and “fragmentation” in American politics. But typically the media places the blame on recalcitrant obstructionists, unwilling to compromise. It’s the arrogant dogma of the past which is to blame! But again, “compromise” is only good if it is good. There’s no virtue in compromising with evil. A “little bit” of genocide is total moral failure. And let’s not pretend that the arrogant dogma of the past is any more arrogant or dogmatic than the one of today. We have to get beyond these fallacies of distraction which seek to explain motives and illustrate affections rather than make actual arguments. The argument is simple. One cannot have a “common good” without a common notion of good.

And finally, the ideology of orientation is irrational and unworkable because it cannot be applied consistently. If a person is “a homosexual” because they feel an attraction to members of the same-sex, then why could not another person be “a nordosexual,” attracted only to tall blondes? In fact, I know many adolescents who would argue that they are “hardwired” to like busty women with very tiny waists, not even being able to imagine happiness apart from an erotic union with such a kind.

So what is the difference between personal tastes, even deeply felt ones, and sexuality? The answer, as I have explained before, is simply sex. The male/female pairing is a natural one, not primarily for friendship or subjective fulfillment (though those are very good when they come!), but for sexual and social complementarity. The male possesses things that the female does not, and the female possesses things that the male does not, and the combination of these things makes for a properly and fully sexual union. A man might well get personal happiness from his male friends. And that’s fine (indeed a major obstacle in this conversation is the current hyper-eroticism of our day which cannot fathom fulfillment in loving friendship). But he can never, by definition, achieve sexual fulfillment with them. This is because they do not bring anything new to the sexual union, nor can the pairing produce new life.

But having made these arguments, the non-rational point is still there. Am I not on the dreaded “wrong side of history”? Haven’t we long abandoned the traditional outlook on life that I am proposing, and therefore, isn’t it the case that I will fail, not only to be persuasive, but to even communicate intelligibly to our modern context?

The answer to this is yes and no. I’m quite certain that I won’t immediately win over a mass following. This is because, as I grant, everyone has departed from basic categories. However, it’s not true that basic rationality and even an instinctive apprehension of the natural law is wholly obliterated. People still “know” plenty of things, even if they can’t explain or justify them. And everyone “knows” that, even if they disagree about what is right, there is still a right. And so the order of the day is not to retreat in order to “build culture” (which is codespeak for bossing around those folks who already agree with you), but rather to start talking about these very basic concepts and frameworks. There is a reality outside of us, bigger than our minds, and a more authoritative than our desires.

And on the most practical side of things, we need to evaluate those ways in which our traditional “lifestyles” have already sold out to orientation-ideology. Whenever we place our personal desires above the objective law of justice, and with it the common good of society, then we are continuing the problem. Libertarianism just is liberalism in this respect, and global capitalism is decadence every bit as much as social progressivism. Traditional natural families are going to challenge both ends of the political spectrum, and they are going to find themselves not fitting in with most of our world. We’ve got to come to grips with this fact, and then we’ve got to life as best we can within such a reality. Choose nature. Choose justice. Choose goodness. This will require sacrifice and even the delay and denial of gratification, but that’s precisely the point.

But you don’t have to worry too much. It gets better. “Take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” I am confident that if we start living rightly, then we will find enjoyment in it. And joyful godly living is one of the most powerful means of evangelism.

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5 thoughts on “What About “Sexual Orientation”?

  1. On your remark about the Declaration of Independence, Deal Hudson has a chapter in his “Happiness and the Limits of Satisfaction” that shows Jefferson to have been relying on the concept of an objective moral order when he wrote his words “the pursuit of happiness.”

  2. While you’ve made good arguments for severing “sexual orientation” or desires from social legitimacy and public objective sanction, but I think that there is a much more fundamental issue to address.

    Many gays do not experience their homosexual desires with the natural objective moral order in mind but as an existential crisis. The question is how are they going to reconcile these desires with the natural order of heterosexual marriage?

    Of course prima facie, one can simply take the “Augustinian” solution and simply declare that such desires are sinful and to be resist… to the death. And that the parallel is that for heterosexual married men, they may experience sexual desires for those busty women with very tiny waists which their wives are unfortunately not, but these desires are sinful and to be resisted and fidelity kept to their wives.

    Fair enough, but one wonders whether or not we might be able to go further in our attempts to reconcile homosexual desires with a heterosexual relationship, that homosexual desires do have a legitimate place to play in a heterosexual relationship.

    I wrote a little about such reconciliation attempts here:

    http://rationalityofaith.wordpress.com/2012/07/01/why-all-sexual-desires-have-a-homoerotic-element-or-what-is-a-homosexual/

    http://rationalityofaith.wordpress.com/2011/04/07/why-homosexual-desires-are-both-holy-and-godly/

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