What's Love Got to Do with It?
I’ve been wanting to write a blog post responding to the comments on my previous post from months ago (some of which have been removed by their authors), the blog post “responding” to my Sex, Faith, and Utter Confusion post, and additional blogs, here and here, that have been written recently from some of our critics. Honestly, so much has been said and so much needs to be said that I haven’t known where to begin.
I will point you to a thorough response by one of my colleagues to the Ir-Ratio Christi post linked above. And I will mention one factual error from the Hate Speech post linked above just for the sake of clarity. The author equivocates by equating “homosexuality” with “same-sex marriage.” In the Frank Turek video being critiqued, Dr. Turek says that homosexual relationships are already tolerated, and thus permitted. He then goes on to argue that changing the definition of marriage to include “same-sex marriage,” and therefore receiving government promotion for such relationships, would be harmful to us. Dr. Turek is not equating homosexual relationships with pedophilia in the sense of them being harmful. He is saying government endorsed “same-sex marriage” would be harmful, but that is different than homosexual relationships in general. Note: This has nothing to do with my agreeing or disagreeing with Dr. Turek’s arguments. I'm simply pointing out an error in the argument by the author of the post.
Suffice it to say that I think there is one thing on which even my critics and I can agree, love for one another is of utmost importance. And since we’ve just celebrated Valentine’s Day I thought I’d write a post focusing on what love has to do with this whole conversation of homosexual behavior, same-sex marriage, and what constitutes good sexual behavior in the first place.
No doubt many of my critics reading this will think that I have no love for them, and they will likely think that my critical comments of their views about certain issues demonstrate this. But I say, please don’t be so quick to rush to judgments, especially wrong judgments. If I didn’t love you I would not be taking the time to write this blog, nor would I care about this issue at all. Moreover, while many of the comments directed towards me, and Ratio Christi in general, have been anything but loving (many of those comments have since been removed by their authors), having met personally with the author of the Ir-Ratio Christi blog post, while I can’t judge his motives, I do believe he is driven to respond as he has because of his love for others (at least in large part). That raises a rather peculiar problem. We both say we are motivated by love for others, yet we come to opposite conclusions regarding what loving others looks like. Who’s right? How can we know?
Before we’re able to answer those questions we must first examine another, more basic, question. What is love? I love pizza. I love my MacBook Pro. I love my two boys. I love my wife. I love God. We throw the term “love” around so much that by and large our culture has lost any concept of what the word actually means. Of course it means different things in different contexts, but regarding loving other people, what does that entail?
I’ve heard it explicitly stated that if we are not affirming the beliefs and desires of someone then we are not truly loving them. For the person asserting this view “love” means to affirm (and accept?) the beliefs, desires, and by implication, behaviors, of someone. And just to avoid any confusion, according to Merrium-Webster.com “affirm” means “to say that something is true in a confident way…validate; confirm…to state positively.” Thus, in regards to same-sex desires for example, according to this view of love (unless I have misunderstood) one must validate and positively state that same-sex attraction is good in order truly to love someone with such desires. Therefore, those who do not positively state that same-sex attractions are good are accused of “hate speech” and “attacking” those with such desires or views.
According to the American Bar Association “hate speech” is defined as “speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.” Notice the logical progression here. If a person simply feels offended or insulted because someone speaks out (however civilly and rationally) against their particular beliefs, desires, or behaviors in which they engage then they obviously do not feel affirmed. And if loving someone really means to affirm their beliefs, desires, and behaviors then they obviously don’t think they are being loved. Not only do they feel they are not being loved, but they in fact feel they are being “hated” or “attacked” because they are not being affirmed.
What Do You Mean By 'Good'?
I wish to challenge this misguided understanding of love and hate. No doubt true hate speech exists, and it is necessarily an evil thing. As I argued in my previous post, all people are equal and deserve to be respected as people. All ideas and behaviors, however, are not equal and do not deserve to be equally accepted (or affirmed). In fact, my critics agree with me on at least this much since they think the idea of hate speech is objectively wrong and those who practice it should not be affirmed. But notice how many other moral obligations are assumed on their view. It’s assumed that it’s wrong to hate others for any reason. It’s assumed that it’s wrong to attack others. It’s assumed that it’s wrong to “offend, threaten, or insult” others. Hence, it’s assumed that it’s good to love others, therefore we should, according to this view, affirm them (unless they disagree with this view!). But why should we assume all of the above stated things are good? Good according to whom? The white supremacist certainly thinks he’s doing good by spewing his hateful nonsense. Who’s right? How can we know?
Without an objective standard of what constitutes good there is no way to say “hate speech” is evil, nor is there any way to say the white supremacist's actions (and his true hate speech) are evil. Without repeating the entirety of my argument from the previous post, I said “classically understood, good is that which fulfills the end/purpose of some thing according to that thing’s nature (i.e. what it is). A thing is good to the extent that it’s perfect, and a thing is perfect to the extent that it lacks nothing according to its nature (ex. a good eye).” Moral goodness enters in because we are rational beings capable of knowing what constitutes something’s good. Thus, we all pursue what we take to be good for us; reason tells us what is actually good for us; therefore the rational/moral person will pursue what is actually good for them. Why should we be rational, and thus moral? Because like our other faculties, our intellect is directed towards an end/purpose as well, and that purpose is the pursuit and attainment of truth. If you disagree with this point then you’ve made my case for me by essentially saying, “That’s not true!” Really? You mean you only want to believe what is true? Precisely my point. One can only reject reality so far before reality bites back. But from this, as I previously argued, we can reason to the fact that it is objectively good to respect people and not interfere with their rights entailed by these same arguments. A rejection of the view that things have intrinsic natures is precisely where our culture is today. It's the view known as nominalism, and it ultimately elevates man's will above reality and, in the end, removes any firm foundation from which to form moral judgments and ultimately ends in relativism (the good is whatever an individual person wishes it to be). As Robert Reilly puts it,
This removal of the objective quality of human acts leaves the true reality of things residing in man’s desires or in his will.…Morality is reduced to human intentions. In other words, an act such as sodomy has no meaning in and of itself, apart from the meaning it happens to be given by the person acting (i.e., what he intends or desires the act to be). As a consequence of this, we are unable to say that the act of sodomy is inherently wrong (or right) but are required to look to the person performing the act. It is according to his interior disposition or desires that the act becomes evil or good.…Relativism inevitably concludes in nihilism, and the ultimate expression of nihilism is the supremacy of the will.1
I will once again refer you to my previous post regarding the argument for the objective good of our sexual faculties and the dual purpose (procreative and unitive; pleasure being the byproduct of fulfilling these goods) of sex. The point here is simply that without a standard of goodness no one can make objective moral judgments about any actions nor meaningfully judge others for being “unloving,” whatever that would even mean in such a context. But as I’ve argued, there is such a standard, and thus we can make objective moral judgments. That finally leads us to considering the initial question in more detail. What’s love got to do with it?
With just a bit of reflection we can see that love cannot simply mean affirming someone’s beliefs, desires, or behaviors. As we’ve seen, those holding this view do not affirm the beliefs, desires, or behaviors of those voicing (rightly or wrongly) opposition to their points of view. They do not, nor should they, affirm those who actually attack others unjustly, bully others, etc. As I mentioned earlier, my beliefs and my personal character were attacked for writing my previous blog entry. According to my critics, they themselves should be charged with “hate speech” if they are going to hold to their standard consistently. But of course, affirming every belief or desire someone happens to have in an effort to love them would lead to absurdity. And my critics obviously think it's wrong to affirm things they deem objectively evil. Thus, they either don't think it's good to love everyone (which is contrary to what they say) or they don't actually believe what they are saying when it comes to defining what love is.
What Do You Mean By 'Love'?
So what is love? I think love involves affirmation, but what exactly are we to affirm? As the thirteenth century scholastic thinker Thomas Aquinas says,
…to love anything is nothing else than to will good to that thing…our love, whereby we will good to anything, is not the cause of its goodness; but conversely its goodness, whether real or imaginary, calls forth our love, by which we will that it should preserve the good it has, and receive besides the good it has not, and to this end we direct our actions.2
Love is to will the good of another, hence we only affirm the good. What is the good? As we’ve already said, it is that which fulfills the ends/purposes of something according to its nature.
Let’s get real with one another for a moment. Can we do that? When I say that extra-marital sex (heterosexual or homosexual) or homosexual behavior are wrong, or that homosexual desires are misdirected and necessarily bad for you, I am not spewing hate speech. In fact, I am loving you because I am willing the good for you. Can I express my views in a hateful way? Of course, and I’ve certainly tried not to do that (though I’m human and perhaps have failed, for which I ask your forgiveness). Can you disagree with me as to what constitutes your good? Yes you can, but you need to make an argument as to what the good is and why my argument fails. Committing logical fallacies, attacking me, or simply appealing to your feelings does not an argument make. Your feelings can be wrong, and we all have desires on which we ought not act. Our wills should follow our intellect, and our emotions should be based on what we know. We should not be led by our feelings!
This brings me to my final point. Some of you will either ignore, or quickly forget, everything I’ve said up to this point. All you will hear is “hate speech” because I’m not affirming you. Some will even say that I am the cause of people killing or harming themselves because of my views about their particular desires or behavior. If you think I’m hating you, then I challenge you to reread, slowly, both this post and my previous blog. But I also challenge you to stop and think. There is NOTHING that should drive someone to the point of harming themselves. Bullying, abuse, etc. are always wrong. Telling the truth should lead to life and true freedom (the ability to do what we ought). Anytime someone harms themselves, or even comes to the point of wanting to do that, it is a tragic state of affairs. In addition, there are usually other factors co-occurring that would cause someone to harm themselves even if that is manifest in one particular issue. In fact, Dr. Paul McHugh, psychiatrist-and-chief at John Hopkins, stopped performing sex-change operations years ago because he found that, even though most patients didn’t regret their surgeries, they still suffered from the same social and emotional problems they had pre-surgery.3 In other words, there were other issues for which they needed to seek help that had little to do with their desire for a sex change.
But perhaps even more importantly, you are NOT your desires. As I said, we all have desires on which we ought not act, and the reason we have such desires makes no difference as to the goodness or badness of those desires. You are a valuable human being directed toward the good, and the loving thing to do is point you to that good (willing your good as it were). If I do not point you to that which I am convinced is good then I am not loving you. I would in fact be hating you. It is with sadness and a heavy heart I say, it is the planting of the false seeds of thinking that you are what you desire and that those who do not affirm your desires do not love and accept you as a valuable person that is leading people to harm themselves. And quite frankly, I am sick and tired of it! You are valuable and you are LOVED! The true and the good bring life not death. If you are considering doing harm to yourself then PLEASE seek help! I am personally willing to walk with you or recommend others who can help.
Why is it hate to say that your desires are misdirected (regardless of the cause of that misdirection), but it is not hate to say that you have the wrong body (in the case of those who desire to be the opposite sex or no sex at all for example)? You are not your body, nor are you your desires. You are a body/soul composite that makes a complete person. The reality is, if you have a man’s body then you are a man by nature. Likewise, if you have a woman’s body, then you are a woman by nature. Thus, the good for your sexual faculties as man or woman is determined by your nature. The fact that some men desire other men, some women desire other women, and some people don't desire sex at all is completely irrelevant to what you are by nature (understand that "nature" here is used in the philosophical sense, not merely a biological sense). If your feelings or desires do not match what you are by nature then they are simply misdirected and do not correspond to reality. For me to pretend that your misdirected feelings or desires do correspond to reality, when in fact they do not, is not to love you. It is not to will your good. In fact, to pretend that your misdirected desires are good would be to effectively will your annihilation (willing you to be something you are not). You may struggle with wrong desires, and the right desires may or may not come, but, the choice to act on those desires is yours. My critics agree with this as well since the mantra I constantly hear is that sex should always be consensual, and therefore they think people should be able to control their sexual urges and behaviors (I agree!). That’s not to say the struggle is easy, but it’s not easy for any of us, because again, we all have desires on which we ought not act. Your struggle may be harder than mine, I don’t know. But I do know that deliberately choosing the good, even when we don’t want to, leads to good habits, and good habits eventually lead to virtue. Not to mention, if you’re a Christ follower, you have the Holy Spirit working within you to conform you to Christlikeness which we’ll mention below. For those interested, I highly encourage you to read Seven Things I Wish My Pastor Knew About My Homosexuality.
“But wait,” some of you are saying. “What about those born intersexed with no clear answer as to their sex? Doesn’t that defeat your whole argument?” Well no, it doesn’t. First, while those born truly intersexed make up about 0.018% of the population, they are truly valuable and loved human beings.4 Second, natural law (based in the nature/essence of things, which is what we have been discussing) deals with the usual cases. The fact that some people are born intersexed, and thus present a more complicated scenario regarding the good of their sexual faculties, does nothing to the argument I’ve been making anymore than people born blind (or with no eyes at all) entails that we can’t know that the purpose of our eyes, and thus what constitutes their good, is seeing. Generally speaking, truly intersexed individuals are genetically either male or female even when their physical characteristics are ambiguous.5 Genetic disorders happen, but this does not mean that the person to whom they happen is not a valuable and loved person. Nor does it mean that we should pretend that human beings don’t exist as either male or female and ignore the fact that these genetic disorders truly are disorders. But again, having such a disorder does not make that person any less of a person or any less valuable and loved.
Please Hear Me Out
While there are certainly people on both sides of these issues who are motived by fear, hate, malice, etc., there are also those on both sides of this issue who are motived by love. But it’s crucial to know what love actually means. As I’ve argued, it means willing the good of another. Why do I engage with this issue? Because I love you and I want the best for you. Therefore, love has everything to do with it.
I will conclude the same way I concluded my previous post because I think this is the most critical portion, and it seemed to have been completely ignored last time. We’ve seen that what we ought to do is based on what we are. Trying to be something we are not is not freedom, it is the annihilation of ourselves. But the fact is, we ALL struggle with being who we ought to be, and none of us do that perfectly. That’s the whole reason we need a savior. Jesus Christ, God the Son in human flesh, lived perfectly as a man ought to live and died on the cross for the payment our own sin deserves. He was raised from the dead three days later defeating the power of sin. Therefore, Paul says in Gal. 5:1, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”
If we have trusted in Jesus’ death and resurrection as payment for our sins then we no longer have to worry about being “good enough.” No one can be good enough. Rather, the Bible says God’s righteousness has been applied to our accounts (2 Cor. 5:21) so that we are free to be who we ought to be as Christ is conforming us to be more like Him on a daily basis. This is what Christians call sanctification, and it’s a life-long journey.
If you’ve never trusted in Jesus as your Savior and don’t know this freedom of which I speak, I pray you will do that today (John 3:16; 1 Cor. 15:1-8; Rom. 10:9-10). If you have questions, please ask me! I can’t promise life will be easy or that all unwanted and sinful desires will suddenly disappear. They probably won’t. But we have reason to believe the message of Jesus is objectively true. Therefore, there is a realistic hope, there is change, and there is true love that will never fail, and that is ultimately found in God. He is our final end, the ultimate purpose toward which we are directed. He wants to take us in our purely natural state and do a supernatural work in our lives for His glory and for our ultimate good. The question is, are you pursuing truth and thus what is actually good for you, or are you simply pursuing your own opinion and what you wish to be good? Are you willing to be truly loved or will you settle for simply feeding yourself what you wish to be true? I pray you will pursue truth knowing that I, and others, are willing to walk with you on the journey.
While the arguments given above, except for the ending with the Gospel, were purely philosophical they echo precisely what God's Word says about the good of sexuality. And to further solidify my stance, and that of Ratio Christi (and what should be the stance of true Christ followers elsewhere), I want to share a letter Dr. Michael Brown wrote to a homosexual activist group in Charlotte, NC:
Most of you know that, as followers of Jesus, we have nonnegotiable moral convictions, based on God’s Word and His natural laws, and we make no apology for those convictions. We believe that God’s ways are best, and we believe that homosexual behavior is contrary to His ways, just as we believe that all sexual activity outside of the bonds of male-female marriage is contrary to His ways. We are not ashamed to take these stands, even if you consider us to be hateful and bigoted. We say again: God’s ways are best, and we make no apology for our Lord and for His Word. We love Jesus, our Savior and Friend, and we are not ashamed to be identified with Him. But there is something else we want you to hear. We recognize that we have sometimes failed to reach out to you with grace and compassion, that we have often been insensitive to your struggles, that we have driven some of you away rather than drawn you in, that we have added to your sense of rejection. For these failings of ours, we ask you to forgive us. By God’s grace, we intend to be models of His love. We understand, of course, that in your eyes, our biblical convictions constitute hate, and it is hurtful to us that you feel that way. The fact is that we really do love you—more than you realize or understand—and because we love you, we will continue to speak the truth, convinced that it is the truth that sets us free. Love does what is right, even when it is scorned and mocked and ridiculed.…And so we will not stop loving you, even if you call us bigots, even if you claim we are depriving you of your civil rights, even if you mock us and call us Bible-bashers. We will pray for you and fast for you and reach out to you and suffer alongside of you. Whether you understand it or not, we are here to help. We do not look down on you or despise you, since for us, the ultimate issue is not homosexuality or heterosexuality. All human beings fall short of God’s standards in many ways, and all of us—heterosexual and homosexual alike—need God’s mercy through the blood of Jesus. All of us need forgiveness, and all of us need to turn from our sins and ask God for grace to lead a holy and virtuous life. You can reject our message, but we will still love you. You can question our motivation, but we will still love you. You can consider us hateful and intolerant, but we will still love you, and we hope that our actions will speak louder than our words. We personally extend an invitation to sit down and talk with us face to face. It is true that we have some profound and deep differences, but we need not differ in a mean-spirited and destructive way. We extend to you afresh the message of God’s transforming love through Jesus.6
1. Reilly, Robert. Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything (Kindle Locations 783-784, 924). Kindle Edition.
2. Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica (Complete & Unabridged) (p. 110). Coyote Canyon Press. Kindle Edition.
3. McHugh, Paul. "Transgender Surgery Isn't the Solution." The Wall Street Journal, June 12, 2014. http://www.wsj.com/articles/paul-mchugh-transgender-surgery-isnt-the-solution-1402615120
4. Sax, Leonard. "How Common is Intersex? A Response to Anne Fausto-Sterling." The Journal of Sex Research, August 2002. http://homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~sousa/teach/PHL243-06.MAIN_files/20065_phl243h1f_archive/SAX-on-Intersex.pdf
6. Brown, Michael L. Can You Be Gay and Christian?: Responding With Love and Truth to Questions About Homosexuality (p. 17). Charisma House. Kindle Edition.
Content in blogs does not necessarily represent Ratio Christi’s views. Details