Sunday, April 30, 2006

The weakness of Harding's latest critique: Part III

Trying to take Harding to task, I have set my cards on the table; you know what I think ECUSA's principal argument is in To Set Our Hope on Christ (hence "TSHC"), and what I take the real source of disagreement to be between supporters and critics of GC2003. We, the members of ECUSA are divided on our understanding of Christian ethics: are we obligated merely by divine will in itself apart from nature, or is divine will mediated by human nature, so that his commands always complement our nature? We cannot settle such deep disagreements about Christian ethics in time for GC2006 or even Lambeth 2008.

I. Realizing the unitive end of human sexuality
ECUSA's TSHC does not aim to do philosophical theology; its aims are more modest. Sections 2.25-32 argue for the holiness of some same-sex unions, going over the ground of my argument E1 (above) in greater detail; in so doing, they shed light on the nature of holiness.

Section 2.26 notes Christians permit sexual relations in marriage for either procreation or for "sharing themselves with each other" as persons, i.e. for unit, "life-long fidelity and self-giving love". Thus, Christinaity recognizes human sexuality has both procreative and unitive ends; further, it recognizes "the unitive end of human sexuality may be realized apart from the procreative end" (2.27). For instance, a heterosexual marriage of known infertile partners is genuine, and not invalidated simply from their infertility, insofar as they can realize the unitive end of their sexuality.

ECUSA seems to imply that given the deliberate realization of the unitive end in sex apart from the procreative end is permitted in heterosexual unions, failure to realize the procreative end of sex alone should not bar same-sex couples from unions. Not only that, sexual activity between same-sex couples in a union that realizes a unitive end is for that permitted, as it is for heterosexual couples in a union. There is no morally relevant difference between the two unions that would imply a disanalogy.

Note, for ECUSA, realizing the unitive end of human sexuality requires the union of the couple:

The Episcopal Church has called for all in relationships of sexual intimacy to the standard of life-long commitment.... (2.25)

Harding does not have much to say about the line of reasoning in 2.25-7.

II. Holiness in Same-sex Unions
One may ask what realizing the unitive end of human sexulaity has to do with the truly pressing issue, whether same-sex unions can be holy. As we have seen earlier, ECUSA's argument E1
(by my nomenclature) requires not merely the presence of the Spirit in same-sex unions, but something more, their holiness. Why, in other words, go through with the blessing of same-sex unions detailed in 2.29, with vows that "constitute same-sex relationships within a larger reality, that of a covenant to form a household together as part of the Christian community of faith...."?

The sexual desire manifest in same-sex unions achieving the unitive end is not mere cupidity, i.e. egoistic desire aimed merely at self-satisfaction. that sexual desire is love of the same sort with the desire that aims to be drawn into communion with God. That very desire for communion with God is the very same desire "that begins in self-giving of one to another and invites an offering of the self in return" (2.28) But such love can only be "God's love, which has made us members one of another in Christ Jesus," (ibid) i.e. a gift from God, and part of the great reconciliation God is effecting between both creation and God, and parts of creation.

Section 2.28 gives the core of ECUSA's case for the holiness of same-sex unions (E3):

(1) Same-sex unions realizing the unitive end do so by God's love.
(2) Any realization of the unitive end effected by God's love is holy.
Therefore, (3) same-sex unions realizing the unitive end are holy.

The key idea in E3 is that those being reconciled in actual unions effected by God's love are being set apart for his purposes in the world and thereby made holy. I happen to think E3 is quite powerful, and it convinces me of the holiness of some same-sex unions. You might see E3 in connection to E1 by picturing "realization of the unitive end" as an effect of the Spirit.

What does Harding have to say at this critical juncture? Nothing that addresses E3. He says,

In 2.28 it is argued that the extension of love by same-sex couples to those outside their immediate pairing fulfills the procreative purpose of love. The authority for so redefining procreation is a report by the Standing Liturgical Committee and the House of Bishops Theology Committee. These are at the least unimpressive authorities for the radical changes being proposed.

Amazingly, he misses ECUSA's point altogether. He seems to be addressing that part of TSHC that follows "Such love has, moreover...." on page 28, section 2.28. Even so, he pictures ECUSA as redefining procreation, when the term ECUSA uses in the part of 2.28 he takes the trouble to address is "generativity," a term chosen in deliberate distinction from "procreation".

III. Refuting ECUSA
What would an effective refutation of ECUSA's argument look like? In effect, ECUSA has argued same-sex unions can be holy where their sexual love serves God's purpose of reconciliation. That is, rather cleverly ECUSA took the very sexuality of same-sex unions realizing the unitive end--what some critics would find most objectionable--as a place where holiness is found.

A conservative who could show why all sexual activity in a same-sex union is antithetical to God's purpose of reconciliation would be on route to a refutation. One way to do that would be to argue that a same-sex union cannot realize the unitive end of human sexuality--that would be a tough case to make. Another way would be to argue that the procreative end cannot be separated from the unitive end; i.e. all sex must aim at procreation. That strikes me as another tough case to make. Or one can pound the table and start shouting.

Another way to look at this: once the procreative end and the unitive end of sexuality are sundered, the way is open to understanding God as working reconciliation through same-sex unions.


At 9:47 AM, Blogger Closed said...


Again, progressive RC'ers are making similar arguments. I wish for you to look over the rite Caelius, myself, and others have worked on for the affirmation of union my partner and I are coming upon in a month. May I send you a pdf?

What strikes me in the rite is this. It's ecumenical in its scope and those gathered to affirm and bless us are from across Christian traditions: UCC, UMC, TEC, EKLD (Evangelische Lutherische Kirche Deutschland), EKD (Evangelishce Kirche Deutschland-United Church), ELCA, RC, Disciples. Also, the wonder of so many who love us has brought together folks who would never otherwise be brought together.

Same-sex couples are a Sign, as Caelius so wonderfully put it, of the unity of the Body in the Spirit, drawing upon friendship rites of the antique Church and the sameness of the outwardness of the Sign. I think the rite reflects this.

What if one of the charisms of same-sex couples is bringing union from across the Body, for no other purpose than simply out of love which is a reflection of the reconciling love of God, for we cannot of our own bear children so our love is not easily pressed into worldly concerns about being productive (though in Christian theology at its best, children are from God out of love as well and never a product at all--in other words, the procreative is a subset of the unitive)?

At 9:48 AM, Blogger Closed said...

I see that you don't have an e-mail. Mine is if you wish to send it there so I can pass the rite on. blessings.

At 1:11 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

(1) Same-sex unions realizing the unitive end do so by God's love.
(2) Any realization of the unitive end effected by God's love is holy.
Therefore, (3) same-sex unions realizing the unitive end are holy.

If we affirm (2) above, then how do we exclude other sexual relationships that the GLBT advocates have asserted are irrelevant to the question, such as committed, faithful polyamorous or (adult) incestuous relationships? Doesn't (2) prove far too much? Or can it readily be demonstrated that NO polyamorous, ephebophilic, or incestuous relationship "realizes the unitive end"?

At 1:49 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Good question--very good, in my opinion, in light of the radical voices in ECUSA that have questioned the value of monogamy in sexual relationships--I mean Spong and Heyward especially.

As you know, I want to say "Realizing the unitive end normally requires lifelong monagamy," with "normally" leaving open exceptions for the patriarchs and for all I know, polygamous African marriages. E.g. I would not want to compel African converts to divorce.

What drives us toward lifelong monagamy trather than polygamy or serial monogamy is both (1)we are obliged to live out the pattern of Christ here-below, and (2)our unions here below are to be modeled on Christ's eschatalogical relationship with the Church.

The goodness of Christ in which we are called to participate is immutable; we are obliged to imitate that immutability so far as we love God in Christ and are enabled by the Spirit. As Aquinas would say, charity conforms the Christian to the divine object. Any switch from one partner to another here below falls away from teh standard we are called to imitate--in terms of virtue ethics, such switching is intemperate, a cardinal vice of you will.

The eschatological marriage of Christ and the Church, in which every believer participates, joins each exclusively and immutably to Christ. Any sexual union falling away from an exclusive, lifelong bonding falls away from the standard after which the relationship was to be modeled.

Taking these points into consideration, ECUSA has more than enough reason to read (2) as excludingall forms of polygamy or seriality.

At 1:53 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


My e-mail is I'm sunk in grading at the moment, really until Thursday, but I am very curious to see what you have written, and would be honored.

At 6:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wanted you to know that I have read both of your comments on my commentary. I do not maintain that my commentary is exhaustive and I may well have missed some of the nuance of the argument. I wasn't impressed with the equivalence of generativity and procreation but leave that aside.

The question that continues to be begged in your analysis is whether or not homosexuality can be shown to be part of the divine plan and whether homosexuality is natural or part of the order of creation in the same way as male and female. You begin your critique II with a distinction between the unmediated will of God and the will of God mediated through nature. Your are using the term nature in an equivocating way, advancing your argument by finessing terms. No doubt this is because homosexuality and same sex unioins seem entirely natural to you. Whether homosexuality is natural in the normative and theological sense is exactly that which is disputed. It is in any event not the case that I do not understand the argument of TSOHOC. I understand it and find it inadequate and a form of special pleading from private experience.

At 11:14 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Father Harding,

Thank you for making this comment; I owe you an explanation concerning my use of "nature".

I meant to infer it is possible for parties in a same-sex union to be happy, flourishing at least in the sense of attaining the cardinal virtues, from the purported actuality of some same-sex unions being happy in that sense.

That possibility in turn must be necessary, in the sense that if it were incompatible with the human essence, it would be impossible--and never actually seen.

That is, given what we are, or the fact the human essence is the way it is, it is possible for same-sex couples to be happy. That is as far as I want my nature-talk to go; there is its cash value.

I do not think this sense of "nature" begs the question--here is why. "Happiness" here is meant to apply only to achieving cardinal virtues--I want to leave the theological virtues out for the moment. That is, I admit attaining the cardinal virtues--something within our power--does not imply attaining the theological virtues; one cannot earn grace or salvation.

The question then can be re-phrased: would God condemn a union in which the cardinal virtues were cultivated? A divine command theorist could well say "Yes" while I would be tempted to say "No--that would set God's grace against nature."

At 1:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ECUSA's syllogism, as presented by the Scotist:

(1) Same-sex unions realizing the unitive end do so by God's love.
(2) Any realization of the unitive end effected by God's love is holy.
Therefore, (3) same-sex unions realizing the unitive end are holy.

But as pointed out above, (2) is nonsense and amounts to question-begging. So the syllogism reduces to:
(1) True
(2) Nonsense
therefore (3) Nonsense

-- by the ordinary rules of logic -- i.e. nothing can be known about the truth of (3) in this syllogism.

(Observe that your comment regarding lifelong commitment observes correctly that such commitment, possibly including monogamy, is a necessary condition for Godly union -- but that's not the question; the question is what is a [jointly] sufficient set of conditions.)

So what is exactly the point of all this, Scotist? It completely escapes me.

At 11:52 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


Am I right in taking you to think it is nonsense that any realization of the unitive end of sexuality effected by God's love is holy?

You do not mean that notion is inconsistent, as if there could be no instances of union effected by God's love that are holy--that would affect the sanctity Holy Matrimony.

You mean, I think, that there are cases of God's love effecting the realization of the unitive end in unions which are not holy, namely same-sex unions.

How could that be? I presume wherever God's love effects some special union above what nature is capable of on its own, the ministry of reconcilation is carried forward; by that very fact what God unifies is holy.

If you say that God would not effect such a special union through same-sex unions, and I ask why, what ould you say?

At 10:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rubbish, Scotist. The ordinary interpretation of (2) is equivalent to "All realizations ... are .." in non-negative contexts. In a negative or question context, in English, the meaning of "any" changes to "some" or "at least one" -- compare "Any kid can get an A in this course" with "Can any kid get an A in this course?" Red herring, particularly since it's a direct quotation from your post above.

And where in your argument do you require sexual congress to be involved in the "unitive end"? From your discussion you regard it as one (presumably among many) means.

It is quite clear that many same-sex relationships involve aspects of human behavior wherein we can see Grace -- compassion and so forth. But you are trying here to claim (apparently; your usage is so inconsistent that it's hard to tell) that every relationship which manifests Grace in any aspect must therefore be, in its entirety, holy (which would be the normal interpretation of (2)). That is the fallacy of composition.

Alternatively, you may be claiming that if some particular means contributing towards a desirable (Godly, whatever) end is appropriate (blessable, whatever) under circumstances A then it is appropriate under all circumstances in which it contributes to such an end. But that is again question-begging: a close and loving relationship between e.g. a parent and a grown child is clearly desirable, but sexual activity within that relationship is not, regardless of any "unitive effect" such activity may have. This is obvious (except to Countryman).

Both of these objections to the ECUSA position have been pointed out and discussed in extenso from the earliest stages of the controversy; claiming that Harding's analysis is deficient for neglecting them is rather like complaining that someone forgot to warn the babysitter not to set fire to the curtains.

And as to your excruciatingly silly question: If you say that God would not effect such a special union through same-sex unions, and I ask why, what would you say?

For the same reason, apparently, that he would not effect such a "special union" with my neighbor's wife, my own child or parent, or my sheep. There are innumerable sorts of desirable and Godly relationships I can have with the other denizens of Creation, but according to both general and special revelation, sexual activity is appropriate and "blessable" in only one of them. That's one reason why it's "special".

I confess that I find your entire analysis pointless, constituting a Hebrides trawler load of red herring.

Old Duns would not be proud...

At 2:47 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

I bet Duns would single out the Anglican prayer books' elevation of the unitive end at the expense of the procreative end as the single most pressing issue here. Those Chruch Fathers likle Augustine and Clement who recognized goods in Holy Matrimony apart from procreation still tied the permissibility of sex in marriage to the end of procreation.
You and I agree at least in rejecting their position, no?

I am not sure what your formal point is. I will formalize my argument for your benefit, and the benefit of others reading this.

Sx: x is a same-sex union.
Rx: x realizes the unitive end.
Ex: x is effected by God's love.
Hx: x is holy.

Let (1) be formalized as:
For any x, if Sx and Rx, then Ex.

Suppose (2) is formalized as:
For any x, if Rx and Ex, then Hx.

Then the conclusion (3) is formalized as: For any x, if Sx and Rx, then Hx.

As you can see, the argument formalized is valid.

Earlier you claimed (2) was "nonsense" but by this you didn't mean "inconsistent" right? I mean, isn't (2) obviously formally consistent?

Maybe then you just meant that (2) was false--buit then logically you mean to admit:

There is an x such that Rx and Ex, but not Hx. That is, you mean to say there is a same-sex union realizing the unitive end and effected by divine love that is not holy.

Note, you cannot require that Christian marriages be holy "in their entirety" in order to qualify as holy--that idea is plainly false, insofar as even justified Christians here below remain capable of sin. Why then would you require same-sex unions to be holy in their entirety in order to qualify as holy?

Participating in the ministry of reconciliation is sufficient for being holy. so yes, a parent-child relationship can be holy--indeed, we do have a number of bleesings for this type of relationship in the BCP '79 now, don't we?

But even you can see a parent-child relationship should not actualize the unitive end of human sexuality--incest is violent, at least insofar as it implies the expoloitation of the child, and the vitiation of its consent, thereby amounting to a type of rape.

Do you have a viable point? Or Harding for that matter?

At 6:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You and I agree at least in rejecting their position, no?

No. Their position was not quite as simple-minded as you make out.

Your reanalysis now completely begs the question. To see why, try to explain to me where precisely I can find the violence in the situation St. Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 5 -- or explain to me why Paul is just being silly and patriarchal and culturally-conditioned and all that.

Another reason this is question-begging is that its validity would remain unchanged substituting any sexual relationship for "Sx" in your syllogism:

Let Sx be "sex with a sheep" -- then

For any x, if Sx and Rx, then Ex

-- remains true, since presumably in this case, ~Ex (Sx and Rx), which makes the implication always true.

Which brings your analysis circling around to the question "Can SSUs provide an appropriate (blessable etc.) environment for the functioning of the unitive character of sexual intercourse" -- but that is and has been the very question at issue, so all of this gassing and supposed "analysis" has provided no light and only a trivial amount of heat...

Your entire discussion here has been useful in at least one respect: it has demonstrated conclusively what Countryman earlier discovered -- that there is no argument in favor of SSUs that does not in effect toss out the entire corpus of judaeo-christian sexual morality. This may or may not be a good thing, but at least we know what the argument is about.

You may have the last word...

At 1:39 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


My reply to the I Cor. 5 case of incest is in a post after this one,

I do not see how sex with sheep relaizes the unitive end of human sexuality; in fact it seems impossible, contrary to your suggestion. Take heart: partnership is necessary to the unitive end in TSHC, and one cannot be a partner with a mere beast because the beast is incapable of being your equal.

I suspect Countryman was not up to the task of making the requisite distinctions, but it is not especially difficult to make them anyhow. For instance, you but not the sheep can read and write, pray and listen to Mark performed, etc
Why can't you think of these things for yourself?

Well, why stop now: a same-sex union may be blessed if it participates in the ministry of reconciliation; it can so participate if God would not condemn a type of relationship in which the cardinal virtues can be attained. Two steps.

At 11:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I promised you the last word, but you once again missed the point completely, possibly due to an ambiguity in the formalism, since I used Ex in two (completely) different senses.

Let Ex: mean "an x exists such that"
Let Lx mean "x is effected by God's love"

Then your argument has as its first premis:

For any x, if Sx and Rx, then Lx.

(This is a direct quotation from your comment above, changing E to L.)

My point was that this is true no matter what "Sx" refers to, since as long as ~Ex: (Sx and Rx), the conditional remains true. This is why it's question-begging.

At 4:28 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


OK, now I see what you mean; you hold "No same sex-union realizes the unitive end of human sexuality." My formal argument above did not address that point; it operates strictly with conditionals.

That is why I gave another line of reasoning to argue it is possible there be a same-sex union realizing the unitive end. I have to argue "possible" b/c there is no same-sex couple we both know whom I could point to and say "See, there."

The argument for the possibility od same-sex unions realizing the unitive end is very brief: (A) they can attain the cardinal virtues; (B) God would not damn all such relationships exhibiting cardinal virtues (he could according to his absolute power, but would not according to his ordained power); (C) thus, God could use them in the ministry of reconciliation.

rb questions step (A) above; I think (A) should be conceded, even if it were very rare. The interesting point of division is over (B): here we must part company, I think.

For there is a line of Protestant theology, esp. in the reformed tradition, that pictures morality as following strictly from divine command. If you follow that line, you might hold (B) false.

At 9:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scotist. Your reply to my comment above shows a defining difference between us. It appears to me that your use of nature and essence and existence entails the belief that cosmos is not fallen. This seems to me entalied by many of the arguments for a homosexual nature. I believe that the cosmos is fallen and that things from top to bottom are not the way they are meant to be. Thus it is ever dicey to argue from is to ought. This prinicple of the Cosmic Fall is significant for many reasons including giving a mandate to zealously pursue the healing of creation.


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