Reacting to the New York Ruling with Sense & Sensibility

John Mark Reynolds

Reacting to the New York Ruling with Sense & Sensibility

History will not end because of gay marriage in ageing New York.

The Catholic Church, imperfectly but inevitably, will continue to stand for decency and public morality. Politicians like Governor Cuomo will side with powerful donors and a momentary immoral majority.

Nothing new there.

Whether on the sanctity of human life or marriage, Governor Cuomo sides with his donors over his Church. Such politicians have their reward, but should not expect prizes from the Church in return.

The Church protected human dignity before New York and will defend morality centuries from now. It has seen pols like Cuomo since the days of the decadent Romans.

Sex should happen between a married man and woman seeking to build a family. That sex does not always happen that way is true, but always regrettable. It is not new for the old immorality boldly to trick itself out as the new morality and deny this moral fact.

The Christian Church has seen it all before now.

Some new group assumes that the pillars of societal order are no longer needed and breaks them one by one. When there is no immediate collapse, the unwise assume that more change will be safe. They measure their morality and cultural security by one human lifetime. Wiser people look to the laws of all nations, history, religion, and philosophy.

They know a society unpracticed in moral restraint in one area will not easily gain it in others. Societies can be too hard, but they can also grow soft, self-indulgent, and sterile.

The key question: Who will determine what is moral for Americans?

John Locke, the philosopher and Christian apologist, argued that both human reason and revelation supported a Christian ethical order. The Founders of America following Locke assumed such an order or took it for granted. Even those who disagreed with the details of orthodox theology adopted an essentially Christian ethic.

The vast majority of Americans have taken a general Christian moral framework as a given. From Lincoln, to Roosevelt, to King, leaders appealed to that standard to bring needed change.

The government of New York decided to discard that consensus and adopted alien standards. The wisdom of the West, of Plato and of Saint Paul, is being ignored in New York.

What have these libertines learned? It cannot be scientific, because science does not deal in ethics. It can only tell us what is and not what should be.

Any human being who denies nature and God’s design for human sexuality is mistaken. It is an error many have made, but a common error is still an error. Classical philosophy was wise when it urged restraint and limits to our erotic impulses. Sexuality is too powerful, sublime, and beautiful to be reduced to recreation or cut off from all chance of fulfilling its intended purpose.

Gay marriage is one small sign of decline from this moral standard and not even the most serious one. It is much less serious than easy divorce, a culture awash in pornography, or infidelity in marriage.

Nobody is perfect, nobody lives up to the high standards of romance and Christian love, but the effort has helped produce Western civilisation.

We are asked to assume all will be well without it. Where is the evidence? Some indicators of marital health are up, but child birth is down. Stable, but sterile marriages, planned barrenhood, is not a sign of success.

Traditional Americans have celebrated chastity and purity as good and sexuality as good. Each has a time and place in a healthy culture. In a world where heterosexuals ignore sense and lack restraint, there probably is no great harm in allowing others to do the same, but that is to praise New York’s folly with faint damns.

We ignore profound questions in our haste and hubris to declare moral what the common opinion of humankind calls immoral. Are we really so ethnocentric to ignore their reasons and experience?

Can such a culture produce enough children? Can it raise healthy children fit to compete in the global arena? Can such a culture develop moderation in other areas when it rejects traditional restraints on sexual desire?

What will happen to the poor in such a state? The rich will always be able to afford more vice, but the poor will show the impact of moral decay first. Will those who mock the Catholic bishops replace their massive and personal charitable works in every poor parish in the nation?

What of the common opinion of humankind? The further America moves from sense to sensibility, the more we cut ourselves off from the opinions of most humans. If we abuse our liberty with libertine values, then it will be harder for those who reject our immorality to draw the distinction.

One hundred years from now the fruit of our folly will be apparent, but we can hope licentiousness will not continue so long. Americans have the power and money at the moment to cast off the restraints of divine and natural law. When the cost of sensual living grows high enough, common moral sense surely will return.

Facile comparisons to the American civil rights movement comfort gay marriage advocates from their moral isolation. They forget that for most Christians, race based slavery was an aberration in the development of Christian ethics. Gay marriage cuts Americans off from the booming global population of mainstream monotheistic faiths and finds allies only in nations inflicted with the same flawed assumptions.

Traditional Christianity is far more likely to survive globally, than this eccentric action by the United States.

The better comparison is to abortion rights. In my youth, a majority of young adults and opinion makers believed Roe versus Wade and time would end the controversy. The great knowledge traditions will neither accept gay marriage nor disappear.

Despite momentary setbacks, Christians are hopeful. Our disagreement is not with those who have homosexual desire. We stand in solidarity against any group or nation that would threaten or bully anyone while pretending to agree with Christian morality. Governments like Uganda are wicked when they threaten homosexuals and are condemned by the sane bishops who condemn Cuomo.

The middle way of morality avoids the perils of moral tyranny and laxity.

Many of us are sorry to be asked so often about gay marriage since there are more pressing moral issues. The experience of other lands shows few gays will choose to marry:  a small percentage of a small group. If state government allows millions of us, gay and straight, to oppose this experiment with marriage, we can hope societal harm will be minimal.

What is next?

Gay marriage is more likely to lead to Christian revival than further decay. Either way, millions of Christian Americans, gay and straight, will love each other better, but govern our desires by Christian ideals. We are not going away.

What next?

Christians will clean up our own failings and make our own lives more consistent with the laws of nature and nature’s God. Good will come of this episode. American Christians will not return to moral hypocrisy about the presence of wrong desires in all of us.  We will not return to the days of the closet, but to open confession of sin in a supporting community where all of us fall short of our highest calling.

We pray for God’s mercy on all Americans, including Governor Cuomo, as we hope to find mercy.

John Mark Reynolds is the founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute, and Professor of Philosophy at Biola University. In 1996 he received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Rochester. John Mark Reynolds can be found blogging regularly at Scriptorium Daily.

Publication date: July 5, 2011