A Conversation…

Here’s a conversation I had recently with someone. Certificate 15, so stop reading now if you’re easily offended (but then why are you here if that’s the case).

A. N. Other : Do you know just how much damage homosexual sex does to the body? For example, men who engage in anal sex are far more likely to develop illnesses of the bowel, cancer or HIV and other STDS?

Peter : I have a question for you. Let’s just hypothetically assume that anal sex is perfectly safe and no more likely to be harmful then vaginal sex or any other form of sex. If that were the case, would your Christian opposition to homosexual activity in any way diminish?

A.N. Other : No of course not, because the Bible is very clear that we’re only meant to have sex within a married relationship.

Peter : If that’s so, in what possible way does discussing the health effects or otherwise of anal sex contribute in any form to a theological opposition to same-sex behaviour?

What do you think?

Posted in Sexuality, Theology Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
  • Paul Huxley

    It does contribute to an opposition of anal sex within heterosexual marriage, however.

    • Yes, but that has no impact on the correctness or not of homosexual behaviour n'est ce pas?

  • Lesley

    I agree with you Peter. Furthermore if there are dangers with anal sex isn't it up to the couple to determine the risks and none of our business what people do in the privacy of their own bedrooms?

    • Not sure I'm 100% with you on this. Sometimes the State can, if necessary, legislate away a private behaviour if it feels it simply isn't in the interests of the individual to undertake that activity. The classic example would be Class A drugs.

    • Jill

      I think it becomes our business when we all have to bear the cost of antiretrovirals for the unpleasant consequences, Lesley. £30,000 per patient per annum, last count.

      • Now that is a VERY good argument based on the common good and not just a dislike for what an individual does to him/herself

        • Blair

          But it's not an argument that only relates to HIV, is it? (Thinking also of obesity, smoking, alcohol……) And the way Jill's using it appear to assume that anal sex leads inevitably to HIV – and I'm aware that anal sex between men is the riskiest kind of sex, but contracting HIV is not inevitable simply because you're having anal sex.

          Also, your conversation, Peter, and indeed just about everyone who's posted on this thread, seems to be assuming that showing how unhealthy anal sex is somehow has a bearing on any kind of same-sex sex. But at most it suggests an argument that anal sex should be avoided, doesn't it? Avoided by anyone, straight or gay or anywhere in between, that is – for as Cerebusboy has pointed out, anal sex is not somehow emblematic or definitive for all gay men, let alone all gay people (yet again sex between women has not figured in the discussion).

          in friendship, Blair

          • For the record, I criticised Garry Williams of Oak Hill College who assumed in his critcical booklet on Rowan Williams that arsenokoites and malakoi referred to active and passive partners in buggery. As you rightly say Blair, anal sex is not the full gamut of male homosexual activity. Indeed, I think most of the research in this area suggests that a minority of male same-sex couples engage in it.

        • Cerebusboy

          Great argument. Presumably Jill would be all in favour of denying retrovirals to heterosexuals who contract HIV, an of course people who get heart disease and cancer through their own free-will poor choices (smoking,eating too much, etc et).
          Gays pay taxes, and so contribute to the NHS too, you know.

          • I don't think she's saying that at all. All she's doing is showing how something that is normally described as "purely a private matter" can actually have public consequences and that therefore a case could be made for society to take a legislative stance. That stance does not in any sense preclude care for those who, through sinful choices, need help.

            • Cerebusboy

              Exactly, but surely that argument extends far further than just retrovirals for HIV?

              • Jill

                We get government health warnings about smoking, eating naughty food, etc etc but where are the government health warnings about engaging in risky sexual behaviour? Of all kinds, not just anal sex. In the case of homosexual activity, they seem to be positively encouraging it!!

                I stopped supporting AIDS charities when I failed to find one single reference to sexual behaviour being the primary cause on the publicity leaflets asking for money.

                • Blair

                  Jill,

                  it is not true that there aren't any govt warnings about anal sex. From the NHS Choices website: "However, anal sex has a number of health risks" (which are then listed); it then says, "The only completely safe way to prevent these is not to have anal sex". There's a link to netdoctor.co.uk, whose page on the subject is more detailed. Among other things netdoctor.co.uk's page says: "It does, however, carry additional health risks and there are safer sexual practices that couples can enjoy" – and again it lists the risks and then says, "Avoiding anal sex altogether is of course the best way of avoiding these risks". It tells people not to use any drugs (poppers etc) that might make anal sex 'easier', and under rimming and fisting (sorry to mention…) says,"we cannot recommend this practice". So, not exactly 'positive encouragement'.

                  in friendship, Blair

                • Cerebusboy

                  At first I almost thought you were joking, Jill. The Goverment has warned about the dangers of unsafe sex from the Thatcherite 'Dont' Die of Ignorance' Ads onwards! Not remember the recent (last few years campaign) with buff male model types and hot girls who, on closer reflection, had 'gonnoreah' or 'Hiv' written across their underwear or on e.g. necklaces? And to use your analogy: do most cancer charities make a point of listing the ways people can get cancer (and, say, guaranteeing not to give any donation money to people who contracted lung cancer through their own poor free will choices?). 20 years after Freddie Mercury died, and a bit more than that from Princess Diana urging compassion for people with AIDS, I don't think many in the UK are in doubt on how you contract AIDS (unless they're making a point of being ignorant). And of course compassion should be offered to all, like Our Lord did, irrespective of how people contracted particular diseases. For example, the Catholic Church hardly goes along with the 'gay agenda' , but they of course work amongst people with AIDS. Admittedly,I have known of conservatives who regard the AIDS ribbon as an LGBT symbol and so ideologically objectionable, which seems to indicate horrendously skewed priorities to me.

                  And if you look at (e.g.) Nuts or Zoo, and then Attitude, you'll note the latter has lots of safe-sex related ads whilst the former does not, so gays are hardly living in a kind of fantasy world free of warnings of the potential dangers of particular sexual behaviours. AIDS was 'GRID' first remember!

                  Governments also have limited budgets to spend on health campaigns remember. Let's say they tripled the amount spent on HIV campaigns – one can just imagine the Daily Heil headlines: "Why is the Government Wasting Taxpayer's Money on a Disease that Mostly Just Effects Homosexual Perverts?!" yada yada ad infinitum

                  • Jill

                    Oh well, I don't read Attitude, or Nuts or Zoo for that matter, so you will have to excuse my ignorance. But 'Don't Die of Ignorance' doesn't have quite the same punch as 'Sodomy Kills', does it? I am totally ignorant about quantum physics and the offside rule but that hasn't had any effect on my health. This mealy-mouthed stuff is what annoyed me about the AIDS leaflets. Whoever died of 'stigma', for heaven's sake. No, it's promiscuous sex that sickens and kills, which the recent pro-gay legislation and the push for indoctrination of children seems to be fostering.

                    • Cerebusboy

                      Reading Nuts and Zoo might be instructive, as you seem to think that promiscuity and screwed-up attitudes to sex are, like AIDS, a gay disease. They're not. How exactly is promiscuous sex being 'promoted'? Coming out of the closet very much does not equal embracing lots of casual sex. People should compare like with the like. The straight equivalent of (say) casual sex resulting from gay bars is not Lovely Monogomous Hetero Marriage, God Blessed and With No STDs.

                      'Sodomy' is as theologically stupid as it personally offensive. Are we really to believe that God destroyed Sodom because of a particular act : penetrative anal sex – as if He'd be perfectly ok if they'd stuck to mutual masturbation and blow jobs!? I've heard lots of 'proof' texted zoomer scriptura anti-gay arguments, but not that one.

                    • Ryan,

                      It seems to me that you have a tendency to pick up something Jill said (in this case "Sodomy") and then to rail against something that Jill hasn't said (in this case, that the crime of Sodom was anal sex). Yes, you're angry with some of the things Jill is saying, but please try responding to the content of what she writes, not what you think she means by what she writes.

                      Oh, and I'm going to do an Ask Peter later today. Get your question(s) ready.

              • I believe (though I could be wrong) that the Age of Consent for anal sex in the UK is still 18 and not 16. Can anybody clarify?

                • Blair

                  Yes – the age of consent for any sexual activity is 16, since the Sexual Offences Act 2003. (Source – Family Planning Assoc.).

                  in friendship, Blair

                • Jill

                  16 in England, Scotland and Wales, 17 in NI. More info on CI:
                  http://www.christian.org.uk/resources/theology/ap

  • carl

    The inherent health risks of anal sex do tend to show it as being outside the created order. It's hard to argue that God intended the lower digestive track to be used as a sex organ when the inherent risks of using it in such a manner are so high. Sexual intercourse is not dangerous unless some external agent (like a disease from a third party or bacteria from the rectum) is introduced. Anal sex is inherently dangerous, and thus indicates that the body is being used in a way that was never intended.

    I should also think that anal sex within heterosexual couples is far more appealing to men than to women. The difference between vagina and rectum means little to the man but much to the woman. I suspect that women would overwhelmingly feel degraded by this activity. The wise husband would not suggest this activity to his wife both for the health risks he would impose upon her, and the psychological cost she might feel in being so penetrated. It's simply not worth it for whatever momentary pleasure he might derive.

    carl

    • But the hypothetical situation I describe above assumes that these "inherent health risks" (which I'm happy to accept exist) aren't there in the first place. If that is so, given that an argument by a Christian would not depend on the wisdom or otherwise of various sexual practices, why bother making an argument about the dangers of sexual practice in the first place?

      There are lots of things people enjoy doing that are inherently dangerous. Class A drugs. Rock Climbing. Bungee jumping.

      • carl

        The justification for homosexual behavior is always some form of "It's natural and therefore it's normal and therefore it's good." The inherent health risk of anal sex becomes part of the response to the assertion that homosexual behavior is natural. "If anal sex is natural (in the sense of being a recognized part of the created order) then why must homosexual men take so many precautions to protect themselves from the natural consequences of the central act of their sexual relationship?" It is yet one more way that homosexual behavior does not parallel the complimentary nature of heterosexual intercourse. It is perhaps an ancillary argument, but there is no harm in using it in a supporting role.

        carl

        • Cerebusboy

          Except that anal sex is not (as Stephen Fry pointed out – 20 years ago!) some kind of outward and necessary manifestation of homosexuality per se, or its coming into being etc etc. And you can still get nasty diseases from man-on-top penis-in-vagina-as-God-intended sex (c.f. lovely homophobic Africa) which negates the Arguments From Plumbing somewhat. And what about gays who just engage in oral sex or mutual masturbation? Is the conservative, following your logic, to assume that God must be somehow less offended by those behaviours as they don't have the same risk of bowel cancer et all?

          >>>>>"If anal sex is natural (in the sense of being a recognized part of the created order) then why must homosexual men take so many precautions to protect themselves from the natural consequences of the central act of their sexual relationship?

          Hmm. If a straight guy didn't use a condom he can get a girl pregnant; in our secular age she may well consider abortion, which the conservative would of course regard as analagous to murder. HIV remains hard to catch, so many gays could 'roll the dice', engage in barebacking and suffer no ill effects. So it remains true that abstaining from 'safer sex' can have grave consequences in both its hetero and homo manifestations, which negates all the anal focus above. You can respond by saying the nastiest of diseases are more likely to be manifest among those engaging in gay intercourse, but a situation where straight people having risky sex get diseases, and so do gays, is hardly an overwhelming argument for the intrinsically healthy nature of the former and the intrinsically unhealthy nature of the latter. And, of course, the Arguments From Plumbing squad have to deal with (i.e. : usually ignore) the fact that the prostate is the male-g spot, and is (to riot in understatement) hardly best stimulate by man-on-top/penis-in-vagina-as-God-intended intercourse! Yet anal sex within necessarily heterosexual Christian marriage is hardly nonexistent (and not just in marriage – google 'saddlebacking') – but women obviously lack said prostate g-spot!

          Sorry if the above seems vulgar, but people have been offering the "gays=sodomites=people who engage in anal sex, anal sex is dangerous so gays=bad" 'arguments' for decades, and its not getting any more accurate, compelling or reality-based! And

          • Part of the point of this site is that we can discuss these things and their relationship to spirituality and orthodox theology without someone thinking that we're being vulgar. If you *were* really being vulgar I would have deleted your comment!

            I understand that in some towns and cities in the UK (Doncaster for example) there are serious public health issues connected with unprotected heterosexual sex.

            That all said, I feel that your line of argument isn't helpful. Essentially it appears that you are raising issues (rightly) with some other forms of heterosexual activity in order to avoid grappling with the issues of anal sex. You may very well be right that heterosexual sex can lead to all kinds of infections, but none of that in any way takes away from the key point that others have made here, namely that anal sex is one of the most dangerous forms of sexual activity, not just in spreading STDs but also in anatomical consequences.

            Of course, the point of this thread was NOT to bang on about that (pun totally intended) but rather to ask whether such a critique actually had any place in a Christian critique of homosexual sex which is ultimately a theological, not biological concern.

            • Cerebusboy

              Peter, some people are using the argument-from-plumbing – I'm using the same logic with heterosexual parts to show how fallacious (so to speak! sorry ;-)) it is. I agree completely that such a line of argument 'isn't helpful' – but I'm not the one invoking it!

          • carl

            Cerebusboy

            Envision two faithful monogamous couples – one heterosexual and one homosexual . Further specify that neither couple has had sex outside of that relationship. I can safely assert that the heterosexual couple will not be at risk of any disease or harm from vaginal sex. I cannot make a similar assertion about the homosexual couple and anal sex. You can through extraordinary precautions ("lots of time and lubricant", for example) make it safer. But this simply tends to prove my point that anal sex requires of the body that which the body was not intended to do. Sexual intercourse within a monogamous marriage is perfectly safe. Anal intercourse within even a monogamous relationship is not safe. And the comparison of pregnancy to STDs is not warranted. Pregnancy is a natural, expected, and necessary outcome of sexual intercourse. Pregnancy is not a disease. It is not a pathological outcome of sex like the damage that can be done by anal intercourse.

            As to your point about the prevalence of anal sex among homosexuals. Certainly I can't make this argument work in all circumstances. I expected someone to say "What about Lesbians?" In fact I was trying to address a narrow question. Could the health risks associated with homosexual behavior ever be properly addressed in an apologetic context. The answer is 'Yes.' Can it be used in every apologetic context around this subject? No, it cannot. My understanding however is that anal sex is quite common among homosexuals. People aren't handing out condoms by the truck load to stop the ingestion of HIV through oral sex. The AIDS epidemic ripped through the gay community because of receptive anal sex, and the prevalence of rectal tissue tearing in the presence of infected semen. In the general case, I would use this argument, even though it might not apply in all specific instances.

            carl

            • Cerebusboy

              "Envision two faithful monogamous couples – one heterosexual and one homosexual . Further specify that neither couple has had sex outside of that relationship. I can safely assert that the heterosexual couple will not be at risk of any disease or harm from vaginal sex. I cannot make a similar assertion about the homosexual couple and anal se

              Yes, but now you're shifting the goalposts. If a homosexual couple are both virgins before entering into a relationship then neither is liable to get HIV from that relationship are they? You are again assuming that heterosexual sex necessarily involves the safe and normal vaginal intercourse only and that gay relationships involve anal sex. Why does using lubricant prove that anal sex is unnatural? And what about my point that prostate stimulation leads to drastically superior orgasms in the male? Were we 'designed' to have a method of stimulation that improves the sensation of sex that, what, we're not supposed to use? And these 'design' analogies are silly. Were our noses 'designed' to hold glasses? Or is the use of artificial agents only wholly wrong in the sexual sphere and, if so, why?

              "And the comparison of pregnancy to STDs is not warranted. Pregnancy is a natural, expected, and necessary outcome of sexual intercourse. Pregnancy is not a disease. It is not a pathological outcome of sex like the damage that can be done by anal intercourse.

              In the majority of penetrative heterosexual encounters artificial devices are used to prevent pregnancy. Let's take your average modern promiscuous types. One is a heterosexual female, one a homosexual male. They both have ten penetrative encounters and don't use protection. Who is more likely to have the more severe consequences? There's a very good chance that the homosexual won't have contracted AIDS, where there is a likelyhood that the female will get pregnant and so (being casual) have an abortion. You can respond that you're talking about a monogomous heterosexual couple who were virgins before the relationship – in that case, the closest gay analogy is a gay couple who are, well, analagous, and clearly two gay men who are virgins before having anal sex are not liable to get AIDS as a result of the relationship.

        • Cerebusboy

          Actually, the notion that homosexuality *needs* a justification is in itself a capitulation to heterosexist ideology. Anti-gays spent years saying , with their usual levels of accuracy, that homosexuality was 'unnatural' hence the response on those lines. If you need a legal justification for allowing homosexuality then a contemporary one would be ' sexual acts between consenting adults are not usually the business of the state" .

          • sexual acts between consenting adults are not usually the business of the state

            But then as Jill very cogently pointed out, when those sexual activities impact economically and emotionally on the wider society, should they by the business of the state? And of course, we spend a *huge* amount of money on public health in this area, so it's very clear already that the State is economically impacted by private consensual sexual activity and as such it *is* a political matter. What would be the political difference between paying lots of money to help "tidy up" after sexual activity that causes incidental harm, and banning that sexual activity in the first place? If I take you back to the idea of the State banning Class A drugs, we can see already that society already accepts the concept of the State banning private consensual activity if that activity has a wider societal impact.

          • carl

            cerebusboy

            Yes, actually it does need justification. Whom you choose to have sex with is a moral choice with very public consequences. Heterosexuality provides its own justification in terms of the obvious complimentary of the genders, and the necessity of heterosexuality for reproduction. Homosexuality has no such analog. I will take your failure to provide justification as an inability to offer it. This is not surprising. You cannot say much besides "Homosexuals want to have sex with each other." But we all know that desire is not inherently self-validating. People express many desires that are by nature evil. Nor is consent a sufficient justification. I note that you threw in that interesting qualifier "usually" in your sentence.

            "If you need a legal justification for allowing homosexuality then a contemporary one would be ' sexual acts between consenting adults are not usually the business of the state" .

            Thus you admit that some sexual relationships between consenting adults are the business of the state. And so you must return to the same question that you previously refused to answer. What justifies homosexual behavior?

            carl

            • Cerebusboy

              """Yes, actually it does need justification. Whom you choose to have sex with is a moral choice with very public consequences. Heterosexuality provides its own justification in terms of the obvious complimentary of the genders, and the necessity of heterosexuality for reproduction

              Indeed. Having heterosexual sex does lead to babies. So in an overpopulated world does the communtiy not have as much right – if not more? – to limit the consequences of the heterosexual intercourse than in does the homosexual one? If two gay men choose to have sex what business is it of yours?

              """"Homosexuality has no such analog. I will take your failure to provide justification as an inability to offer it.

              No, your logic is absurd. We do not live in a fascist state. In a free society people tend to have rights over their bodies. If you are claiming that this right should stop at consensual gay sex then the burden of proof is on you to explain why heterosexual encounters (which can have negative encounters too of course – deadbeat dads, single mums living off the taxpayer, the consequences of people having children who aren't equipped to do so etc etc).

              If your 'justification' for heterosexual sex is the necessity for the human race to reproduce itself, then I take it you condemn all non-procreative sex? If not, why not?

              Sexuality is a moral choice, but isn't it necessarily a moral choice for those who choose to partake in it? To be clear: are you saying that because you yourself can find no justification for the act ( which is not a line of enquiry that you would need to pursue anyway) that it is necessarily immoral? And even if it is immoral, should it be illegal? I hope you're not invoking the homosexuality-destroys-society boogyman, which is demonstrably (c.f. Rome, who weren't exactly averse to homoshenanigans in the glory days, or the Spartan buddy system) spurious.

            • Cerebusboy

              Are you saying that people shouldn't be allowed to choose to do what you call 'evil'? (and you've hardly made any attempt to show that homosexuality *is* evil, of course). Sounds a bit theocratic. Free will is a gift from God.

              • "Free will is a gift from God"? People have free will? Really?

                Care to build a Scriptural case for that whopper of a theological claim?

                // Calvinist Mode OFF //

                • Cerebusboy

                  Well, pretty sure it accords with e.g. orthodox,normal, universal, MOR Christianity as explained in Lewis' Mere Christianity (which is far more evangelical than it is liberal, surely), and the best thing that can be said about Calvinism is that it makes pre-Reformation Catholicism look fun.

                  However can't discuss theology right now as Shameless is on (which kinda proves my point! ;-))

                • Cerebusboy

                  More seriously, Carl seems to be arguing something similar to the bad old days of 'error has no rights' Clerics-as-dictators Catholicism. If he is doing so, then he really ought to broaden his argument beyond mere homosexuality (as claiming or assuming that homoshenanigans are privledged as the only 'evil' that ought not be allowed sounds pretty h-word to me), and I'd maintain that he's on a trajectory contrary to the best of our Magna Carter onwards law and (to pick that other great western democracy) The Bill of Rights.

              • Cerebusboy

                Peter, I can understand why you went for a branching commenting system, but I'm trying to find replies I missed and, to be honest, it would be easier with an old fashioned 'old messages top, new messages at the bottom' unbranched system! Thought I'd mention it in case you'd be up for changing (see Jill above – or below! – raised similar issues)

                • You can sort the comments with the menu at the top of the thread, but let me see if I can give you the option to have it either threaded or just stacked up.

            • Blair

              Carl,

              are you the same carl who posts on Fulcrum? If so, I'll risk repeating myself a bit ;) …in that I suggested the other day that you could look at James Alison's essay, 'Good-faith learning and the fear of God', available at http://www.jamesalison.co.uk/texts/eng17.html . I'm bringing it up again as part of a response to your question, "What justifies homosexual behavior?". If you mean justifies it morally, then I'd suggest that James's argument could be helpful. Any 'justification' of the behaviour must turn on how homosexual orientation is rightly characterised (would you agree?) – if same-sex desire is a pathology or disorder in some way, it can never be right to have same-sex sex. But if it's discerned that this characterisation is not true, then the possibility opens that there are contexts in which same-sex sex would not be wrong.

              Please note that this is not an argument that this "desire is inherently self-validating", nor is it saying that 'homosexuals want to have sex with each other', therefore we can justify doing so. It's saying, if it can be discerned that a same-sex orientation is not a disorder or pathology, but is rather something that just is that way, then there can be contexts in which same-sex sex would be morally justifiable – analogous to the 'unitive function' that sex is said to have in hetero relationships.

              in friendship, Blair

              • I guess part of Alison's argument rests on how one defines a "disorder". What about something that might occur "naturally", but is still part of the Fall? So for example, a conservative understanding of homosexuality might be that even though it's genetic, those genes are a consequence of the corruption of humanity that comes through the Fall. The ultimate guide at this point for whether homosexual practice is sinful is not based on the subtlety of the nature/nurture argument (or to get back to the point of this thread, the "goodness" or otherwise of specific homosexual acts) but on the prohibition found in Scripture. Something can be, from the perspective of Fallen humanity, perfectly natural and "normal" and yet at the same time sinful.

                • Blair

                  But if homosexuality is (in your words) "part of the Fall", then it cannot be something that will be a part of the new creation, so in terms of James's argument it would not be 'a thing that just is that way' but would be a disorder of some kind, a 'defect' in an essentially heterosexual humanity. James's argument doesn't (as far as I can see) have anything to do with the nature / nurture debate, but rather is about how we can discern what is within a framework of faith. And yes, I guess it takes it that the Scriptural prohibition will be questioned, ot at least have more light shed on it, as part of that discernment.

                  in friendship, Blair

                  • And that is (as you allude to) the key difference AND the point of this thread. I see the Scriptural prohibition as obviously divine in origin. I want to seek to understand that prohibition so that it becomes more than just, "Don't do that because I say so", so as part of that understanding I'm wondering whether the discussion of various aspects of homosexual practice is necessary. I happen to think those discussion (e.g. criticising anal sex on health grounds) are secondary and not really essential to the core theological argument, others think, in a manner drawing on Paul's understanding (and that I guess of Thomas Aquinas as well), that nature "reveals" the truth that is explicitly revealed in Scripture. What links these two views however is the utter sovereignty of Scripture – the difference is what accompanying material we bring in alongside it to supplement the argument it already makes.

                    Alison's position is different, because it *doesn't* begin explicitly in Scripture, but rather within the community of faith. So yes, nature/nurture doesn't come into it (which incidentally is I think also the same for my far more conservative view – at the end of the day nature/nurture is irrelevant for determining morality) but there is also that other much more fundamental difference. Alison' position holds out the possibility that Scripture might be wrong, mine doesn't, but I hope as many of us appreciate, that doesn't mean that the conservative stance is in any sense navie (even if some of those who attempt to articulate can be accused of being so).

                    • Blair

                      Hi Peter,

                      but as you well know, there are cogent questions to be raised about what exactly the Scriptural prohibition covers and how it's to be applied. I don't think the difference between your position and James's is that great by the way – for instance I don't think his position is 'holding out the possibility that Scripture might be wrong', but rather the possibility that the way it's traditionally been read and applied could be wrong. I think you're basically right that he's beginning within the community of faith… but then it's precisely this community that reads and applies Scripture. James's argument seems to me to be about a theological framework for discernment on the gay question – a framework that 'both sides' could (he hopes) work with and within. And surely your 'seeking to understand that prohibition' has to hold open the possibility that it might not have been applied correctly….?

                      in friendship, Blair

                    • But then as my recent posts in the last few years demonstrate, I'm pretty clear that they mean what we've always (more or less) thought they've meant.

          • "Actually, the notion that homosexuality *needs* a justification is in itself a capitulation to heterosexist ideology"

            Just reading through this thread again and remarking that this reminds me of a scene from the UK (far superior then the US) Queer as Folk where Nathan wakes up in Darren's flat and sees on the wall a poster with the slogan "Smash the Fascist Heterosexist Orthodoxy".

            Perhaps that's a subject for another thread – "What is the Fascist Heterosexist Orthodoxy?"

            • Cerebusboy

              Indeed. the original UK Queer As Folk was tremendous – and, I'd maintain, the best thing Russell T Davis has ever done, Who included! And QaF 2 was great too!

              Don't you see something skewed in *assuming* that homosexuality is evil and that, uniquely, it requires a philosophical justification? And, of course, even if one agreed with all the the things that (e.g.) are identified as objectively disordered in the Catechism of the Catholic Church then that doesn't mean that a free society ought to criminalize them ( if we're going to have police check that two guys aren't up to no good, then they could crack down on similarly-disordered masturbators!)

              • QAF2 was just a little bit too silly right at the end.

                When you say "Don't you see something skewed in *assuming* that homosexuality is evil and that, uniquely, it requires a philosophical justification?", how does that fit in with the concept of divine revelation. I don't assume anything, except that the Scriptures are the God-breathed Word.

                • Cerebusboy

                  Doesn't orthodoxy say that apologetics are essentially buttresses for positions necessarily reached on spiritual grounds via grace? I think , sadly, a lot of people have fell from the faith because they assume being a Christian means you have to take nonsense like the "trillemma" "argument" seriously.

                  Wouldn't you say that Divine Revelation indicates that heterosexual fornication is evil? Yet there is conservative saying that society shouldn't allow (i.e. criminalise) said behaviour. Isn't worshipping other gods perhaps one of the greatest evils, indicated by its placing in the running order of the Ten Commandments? Yet, similarly, no conservative is saying that society should not allow (i.e. criminalise) Islam. So why should homosexuality be the only activity solely criminalized because Scripture says it's evil? Of course Carl did say 'philosophical' justification – plenty of pro-gay philosophy, but I'm guessing he's using 'philosophy' to denote his own brand of objectivism*. And he certainly has not offered any argument on its merits as a sensible basis for society. Note also that carl say that people have many desires some of which are evil. Indeed. But, to riot in understatement, he has not exactly offered any argument on why homosexuality should be *assumed* to be evil. What is the moral 'justifation' for smoking?Or overeating? Or people watching TV?Or gambling? Or spending all day online? Even if he had proved that homosexuality was 'wrong' , or less than ideal, it in no way logically follows that society ought then to proscribe it. Arguments on abortion , for example, on the pro-life side concede that people should have rights over there own body in a free society, but counter that a foetus is a separate life and murder very much is not allowed by society. So in fact 'allowing' homosexuality is entirely consistent with our best and most longstanding legal principles. As Gore Vidal pointed out, at least when Justinian proposed banning buggery he did so on the sensible grounds that it was a leading cause of earthquakes.

                  QaF2 was gloriously silly! It even made dramatic gold from a Batman and Robin (duff movie, not the current excellent comic series) reference, surely indicating a writer and director on top form.

                  *author I like was once asked if he was an objectivist, and replied that he was tempted to respond with :
                  Sure, I object to a lot of things

                  ;-)

        • Cerebusboy

          'homosexuality is natural' in no way logically entails that 'buggery' is 'natural' (even thought it is of course ;)) A=A, eh?

    • Jill

      I can vouch for that, carl!!

    • Cerebusboy

      Your second paragraph is highly speculative nonsense. What possible evidence do you have that all women who have anal sex find the activity degrading? Does it's very prevalance amongst heterosexual couples not negate that theory (unless your going to invoke the 'promiscuous women must have low self-esteem and have sex to punish themselves' cliche)?

      """The inherent health risks of anal sex do tend to show it as being outside the created order.

      really? most people who've had anal sex very much do not wear nappies or have bowl cancer. Anal sex can of course be dangerous, but time and proper amounts of lube make it a safer (not, I concede, 100% safe activity).

      ""The difference between vagina and rectum means little to the man but much to the woman.

      A quick look at 'lad culture' and the typical fantasies of your average straight men (which are the logical closest analogy to promiscuous gays) shows that the first part of that sentence is simply wrong. Are you suggesting that a guy makes a woman go through what you identify as an intrinsically degrading act when he sees no real difference between penetrative sex in the anus v penetrating the vagina?

      And I note that you've completely ignored my point that anal sex is NOT an inherent property or universal inevitability of homosexuality per se.

    • Cerebusboy

      Oh, and our bodies evolved. Even if you wanted to ignore science, I'm not sure what you could argue God designed male nipples for. And were woman designed to perform fellatio but men (homosexuality being wrong and all) were not? what scientific evidence is there to sustain that contention? The argument-from-plumbing line is ludicrous.

      • Male nipples are easy to explain. The human infant in the womb grows initially as a child with the potential to be either sex (even though the sex is written into the DNA). Once the sex hormones are active then development pursues two separate lines (i.e. ovaries in males drop to become testees). Nipples are present in the early stages of growth in both sexes, are almost identical in children and only become actualised as part of mammary breasts in females during puberty.

  • I think this the same question as: "how far can we look at Nature (correctly; i.e. through God-honouring eyes) and determine the way things should be used from the way they are created?"

    Another example would be the idea that: "God put coal and oil on the earth. We should use them wisely, sure – but those who claim we should not use them _at_all_ because it damages the planet are claiming that God would provide a really awesomely useful resource which is actually a big booby trap. We can look at their existence and infer how they should be used."

    • Yes, but if our core argument doesn't hinge on the health risks (or otherwise) of various sexual practices, why should we bother mentioning them in the first place?

      • James

        An interesting thought, Peter.
        How about for other possibilities? Suppose one's in a culture of headhunters and wishes to make an appeal for avoiding murder. Or in a subculture of Marxists who believe all property is theft, and thus have rather sticky fingers. I'd guess that in the process of making the theological argument, we'd be trying to open the argument up to human understanding by demonstrating the justness of God's law in His created order – and the various ways that we can understand that justness by appealing to other things which we understand.

        In doing so, we wouldn't be arguing that theft is wrong because of the way it can damage the social order, sow distrust, or harm those who are its victims; the same goes for murder. But the appeal to what we understand of creation can be illustrative and help us understand the justness of God's laws if we are skeptical and less than inclined to accept the laws themselves.

        So a correlate question is: if appeal to the creative order can help our understanding and contribute to a holistic perspective, while perhaps not furnishing the answer to the question why we ultimately believe these things to wrong – then why not describe the social or biological consequences, as long as we are careful in our argumentation, and don't give the impression that these usurp our understanding of the sovereignty of God and the importance of obeying His law?

        One possible "why not" reason could be: the difficulty in finding good, reliable, non-partisan scientific evidence – especially now, when the issue is so terribly politicized. This alone, however, is not an adequate reason to leave this aspect of the discussion aside completely. It may be challenging – but if there is good evidence, and we are in a discussion with a party who will be able to accept our concern as love and not merely as "gay bashing" – such health evidence could play an important part in explaining God's law in His creation.

  • All I can say is, in the past, when Christians would use this line of reasoning with me as a defense of the Church's teaching on homosexuality, I would totally tune it out, because it sounded crazy, obsessive, and seemed to have very little of Jesus in it. By grace, I've had my own conversion of sorts in reading the scriptures on these issues, but I'd say that this sort of reckoning was pushed back several years for me because of this kind of argumentation. Whether or not there's biological truth to it, this is a line of reasoning that creates a bigger stumbling block than it removes.

    • James

      Thanks, Fr. J, that's good to know. I must admit: a lot of time this kind of reasoning does sound demeaning and yucky. The stories behind it however are themselves sometimes demeaning and yucky – or at least this is the case with some of the tragedies I've known in my own circle of friends, and certainly has been the case in bathhouse culture from which much of the gay movement sprang. Nonetheless, this is not the situation most of the gay people we speak with will be in; and bringing one's attention to these things will often hurt more than it helps. A loving spirit knows the right context for things – and for this type of things, there probably aren't many conversations that would be the right context.

  • Thanks peeps for the conversations so far. It's refreshing that we can come from all sides of the coin on this and still have a mature discussion about what should and shouldn't contribute to a conservative critique of sexual behaviour. I think this is a really useful thread.

  • Folks, I'm going to leave this thread open for today and then close comments. I think that has been a really useful conversation and well mannered.

    • Jill

      Very wise. It seems that this thread has attracted too much attention in certain other quarters. We don't want to give them too much entertainment, or opportnities to post pictures of bottoms, do we? :)

      • Oh I don't mind *that*, especially because it's not just you and me who have spotted the aforementioned attention.

        • Cerebusboy

          ! Can I ask what that's a reference to? Is this thread a big hit on twitter or the like?

  • Cerebusboy

    Peter, the term 'sodomy' is intrinsicially ideologically fraught, and more than a bit stupid. If someone used the term 'homophobia' here I think you would rightly call intention to the word and its ideological baggage, questioning how its being invoked, instead of giving people a free pass if they somehow did so from the best of motivations or felt it was justified in the context. If we're not allowed to question the legitimacy of key terms in the rhetoric of either side in this debate then there's not much chance of genuinely constructive conversation, surely?

    • Jill

      This thread has got too long and involved for me to spend another ten minutes hunting for my 'Sodomy Kills' remark which Cerebusboy is probably referring to, so excuse me if I just respond here. (If anyone knows a way of quickly finding the tantalising snippets in the sidebar, do tell!)

      The wiki explanation of sodomy: A sodomy law is a law that defines certain sexual acts as crimes. The precise sexual acts meant by the term sodomy are rarely spelled out in the law, but are typically understood by courts to include any sexual act deemed unnatural. It also has a range of similar euphemisms. These acts typically include oral sex, anal sex and bestiality; in practice such laws have rarely been enforced against heterosexual couples.

      The word has never struck me as being offensive. You can replace it with Buggery if you like, but I would have thought that was rather more pejorative, although perhaps a little more specific. My previous point was that at least we would all know what we were talking about instead of using all kinds of sidestepping tactics which, for fear of giving offence, do not do the job for which they are intended.

      Homophobia, on the other hand, is a very silly word, the actual meaning being 'irrational fear or hatred of the same', the prefix 'homo' meaning 'the same'.

      But I do understand what you mean, Cerebusboy, and am not trying to sidestep the issue. What Peter said earlier, though, about you adding your own interpretation of what I actually said and then shooting at me for that spells out to me how very different the mindsets are between liberal/conservative, gay/straight, revisionist/orthodox, or whatever, and why we will always talk across each other. There is basically no proper understanding of each other. You attribute attitudes to me which I do not have then hold me to account for them, and perhaps I do the same to you. It is not intentional, and you will probably say the same; it is just our perceptions.

      • Cerebusboy

        well, anal sex in heterosexual marriage was illegal until (IIRC) 1994, and a fellow was once famously sent to alcatraz for going down on his wife. So 'sodomy laws' hardly redeem the term 'sodomy'. If you mean 'anal sex' then I don't see why you don't say so. Not least as the wikipedia article you cite included a reference to bestiality, which you presumably have not been thinking of when you used the word 'sodomy'! The word 'sodomy' is not so much 'offensive' as it is 'stupid and misleading' and so by definition not conducive to serious dialogue. And of course the likes of Ann Summers are full of anal gizmos and starter couples for straight couples, so it remains a tactical error for conservatives to make too much of a particular act that is hardly some kind of unique intrinsic property of homosexual relationships per se.

        Technically, antisemitism is a stupid word too, as arabs are 'semites', and it was actually coined *by* a Jew-hater to give the prejudice a more scientific and so respectable ring. Yet people accept that what 'antisemitism' is meant to denote is indeed a prejudice worth challenging, instead of engaging in whipping out the dictionary as a diversion tactic. You don't need to be Peter Tatchell to find such double-standards curious, and worrying.

  • Tom

    Just before you close the comments Peter, I'd like to say I read this thread on a very late train last night and was too tired to comment. However I do think people have conducted themselves with restraint and made some interesting observations. Just a couple of things struck me that ought not to be missed. Apparently anal sex between opposite-sex couples is not a one-way street; sometimes the woman uses a device to 'peg' the man and it is not as unpopular as you might think!

    And Jill, you said there is nothing offensive about the word 'buggery'. Well, maybe not to you but what about Bulgarians from which I believe the word was coined, rather on the the lines of le Vice Anglais, or the Italian Vice? The assumption was that it didn't happen here – or didn't until those damned dagos came and corrupted our young men. The Japanese, whose Samurai warriors rather got to enjoy same-sex relations, used to say it was brought from China by a Buddhist missionary monk. And don't forget, the Bulgars were also accused of the Cathar heresy….

    (P.S. Peter I hope you are going to leave the Stephen Green thread open a little longer because I have not had a chance to respond to James's direct question and I have something to add. I'll try to do it this evening but I can't promise I'll be up to it.)

    • Thanks Tom. Yes, I'll leave the Stephen Green thread open, especially because StumbleUpon is sending me huge amounts of traffic that way at the moment. Looking forward to your further comments.