Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Part IV: Against Harmon's "Sex Without Form & Void"

Harmon's case would be cogent with a persuasive reading of Genesis, but no reading of Genesis unmoored from submission to Christ should persuade. It is not at all a matter of rejecting the OT as Witt has suggested, but rather a matter of reading the Bible whole with an eye to the principal climax in its narrative: the ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ. Harmon would have Christ bizzarely endorse a version of Genesis taken apart from primary reference to his person:

First, Jesus consistently affirms that sexual intimacy belongs only within marriage, an understanding he derives from Genesis 1 and 2 (cf. Mark 10:4–9; Matt. 19:3–12, etc.).

Jesus derives his understanding of marriage from Genesis? "Derives"? On exactly which line of thought within orthodox tradition? You will not find that notion in the Church Fathers or in the Doctors of the Church. They have quite definite notions of Christ's understanding rather contrary to Harmon's fantasy. It is quite the other way around--Genesis derives its intelligibility from Christ. The Bible is not the Word incarnate; the Word and it do not form one person with two natures unmixed; nor does any other person of the Holy Trinity assume it: Harmon's exegesis exhibits a basic confusion between creature and Creator dangerous to the substance of the faith. The Bible can only ever be a created instrument through which God speaks Christ in the power of the Spirit--sacred, sure, and inspired, yes--yet for all that created. Lingering over Harmon's starting point, I hope to have shown the peril of displacing the centrality of the sufficient person of Christ from our interpretation. The remainder of my critique follows rather briefly.

I. In the OT and NT
His discussion of the sin of Sodom is insufficient to establish that the story teaches any homosexual activity whatever is sinful. He writes, "The crucial point, however, is whether the sin of Sodom is one of hospitality rather than sexual immorality." No--"sexual immorality" is too broad. Of course the sin in question is a type of sexual immorality. Why couldn't the sin in question be hoosexual rape rather than any homosexual activity whatever? In neither Judges nor Genesis is the sexual activity contemplated in the narrative exactly consensual. Harmon's analysis does not differentiate categories of sexual immorality in sufficiently fine grain to prove what needs to be proven.

Likewise, his discussion of the Holiness Code is flawed. The Ten Commandments and associated moral laws are merely "a valuble guide for the community of faith today"--but "a valuble guide" (his words) need not be exclusively normative for the faith community today. Likewise, his "Whereas certain specific cultural applications of the principles underlying many proscriptions in Leviticus are not relevant, the principles are" leaves the matter in question unresolved apart from reference to his tendentious reading of Genesis 1-2.

Harmon's interpretation of Romans 1:26-7 is good up to the point where he writes

Also, our relationships with our fellow human beings no longer function as God intended them, and both women and men exchange the natural created desire for a consummated relationship with the opposite sex and engage in same-sex relationships: “women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another” (vv. 26,27).

The text presumes an exchange of natural created desire--heterosexual--for another type of desire--homosexual. But can one exchange what one has never had? It makes no sense to say a human being exchanges heterosexual for homosexual desire when the human being may never have had heterosexual desire to begin with; it would not have been there to be exchanged. Whether such people make up 10%, 5%, 3%, 1% or .001% of the general human population, Paul's particlular condemnation of homosexual desire would not apply to them. Harmon seems oblivious to this obvious problem, and seems intent on making Paul say something he isn't saying.

NT condemnations of fornication do apply to any sex outside a sacramented union--hetero or homosexual. If Harmon could show that heterosexual marriage is the only sacramental union permitted by Scripture, I believe he would have made his case. But the Bible does not contain such an argument; without such an argument, appeals to Jesus' condemnantion of porneia would leave open the permissiblilty of homosexual activity within a sacramental union.

Scripture simply does not conatin the kind of blanket condemnation of homosexual activity Harmon claims.

II. Tradition
Harmon's appeal to tradition is even weaker than his appeal to Scripture. As with the traditional case for denying women ordination, the traditional case for condemning homosexual activity looks rather hollow, presenting the bizzare cicumstance of the church enthralled to a phantom. Incredulity is the proper response--this is the best tradition has to offer? Then anger.

Consider Harmon's examples:
Thou shalt not corrupt boys; for this wickedness is contrary to nature, and arose from Sodom, which was entirely consumed with fire sent from God. (Apostolic Constitutions)

Therefore those offenses which be contrary to nature are everywhere and at all times to be held in detestation and punished; such were those of the Sodomites....For even that fellowship which should be between God and us is violated, when that same nature of which he is author is polluted by the perversity of lust. (Augustine's Confessions)

“And likewise also the men leaving the natural use of the woman.” Which is an evident proof of the last degree of corruptness, when both sexes are abandoned. . . . For he does not say they were enamoured of, and lusted after one another, but “they burned in their lust one toward another.” You see that the whole of desire comes of an exorbitancy which endureth not to abide within its proper limits. (St. John Chrysostom)

Homosexual desire need not be for little boys, nor need it be a matter of lust, exorbitant or otherwise. It is simply not eveident such examples have the requisite generality for harmon's purposes; they do not catch the type of desire contemplated by advocates of SSUs. Even granting complicity with St. Vincent's dubious criterion, the rather glaring weakness, even silence, of tradition here issues a curious imperative: the tradition of the church has not decided against all homosexual desire whatsover, and to dissent from this witness is to abandon the church's proper catholicity. Is that what Harmon wishes to show? How far is this from the general run of Boswell's thesis in Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality after all?

Poor Boswell is treated rather unfairly in Harmon's hands, in my opinion. Harmon curiously quotes Aquinas against homosexuality without bothering to discuss Boswell's critique, which to me seems quite decisive. Go ahead and read Harmon's section on Aquinas, then read Boswell on Aquinas (it's only 14 pages, from 318 to 332, so you have absolutely no excuse not to read him for yourself), and go back to Harmon on Aquinas again--see what I mean? This is the best tradition has to offer? My oh my; it's pathetic. Appeals to a tradition against all homosexual practice, like appeals to tradition against ordaining women, deserve very little respect or patience.

III. Reason
While Harmon makes some very good points here, reminding all of us that (1) reason in the Anglican tradition is "right reason" or rationality permeated by Scripture and tradtion, and (2)merely scientific reason is not what Anglicanism means by "right reason," these fine points do not make his case.

Note just a couple of blunders. First, he writes:

But the logic of this argument is dangerous: the frequency with which a condition occurs is not related to whether it is right or wrong. Is never automatically means ought.

It is odd to see him buy into the fact/value distinction without any evident circumspection, issuing such a bold, unqualified claim. Never say never; were ought to imply can, is would imply ought: actual necessity--the "is"--would imply obligation--the "ought." That is, suppose agent A cannot voluntarily perform an act of type T; were ought to imply can, A would not be obliged to perform an act of type T. This is not only Kantian morality, but also an application of the Thomist motto, what is received must be received in the mode of the receiver. Anyhow, in the case above, an actual state of affairs, something which merely is, a fact, has immediate moral implications, contrary to what Harmon implies. he should stick to hacking away at Boswell.

Second, he misuses scientific data, conflating hormonal and genetic determination (lengthy quotem, boldface mine):
Does contemporary research substantiate Bishop Spong’s argument that one’s sexuality is determined hormonally prior to birth? No. John Money, for example, writes, “whatever may be the possible unlearned assistance from constitutional sources, the child’s psychosexual identity is not written, unlearned, in the genetic code, the hormonal system or the nervous system at birth” (“Sexual Dimorphism and Homosexual Gender Identity,” Perspectives in Human Sexuality, 1974, p. 67). Masters and Johnson agree: “The genetic theory of homosexuality has been generally discarded today” (W. H. Masters, V. E. Brown, R. C. Kolodny, Human Sexuality, 1984, p. 319). Professor Thomas Bouchard of the University of Minnesota reported the conclusions of his study of 105 sets of twins who were separated within a few weeks of birth and brought up in different families. Although Dr. Bouchard found that genes did have an impact on various social attitudes, he “suggested that homosexuality was not genetically determined, but a response to environmental pressure” (as reported in the Times of London, February 17, 1990).

One would have thought it obvious hormones can affect infants prior to birth regardless of their genetics, so that saying genes do not determine X does not imply hormones fail to determine X.
Oh well; these are relatively minor parts of his overall case, which hinges on a reading of Genesis that I take to be mistaken. Grant that reading, and much of the rest of his argument might fall into place. My main point then is that there is no good reason to grant his reading, and very good reason to give another reading, one that honors the centrality and sufficiency of Christ in the Christian narrative.


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