Saturday, 21 May 2011

Love: nature, purpose, commitment and affection

In a previous post, I blogged about the arguments for same-gender marriage. I received the foll. question:
There’s one other argument used by those in favour of same-sex marriage that you haven’t covered: love.

The basic argument goes - the core reason for marriage is the declaration of your love for, and commitment to, another person. Homosexual couples are just as capable of love and commitment as heterosexual couples, so they should be just as able to express their love for each other as heterosexual couples can by getting married.

The slippery slope with this argument is that it not only opens the door for same-sex marriage, but also polygamous and polyandrous marriages. How would you respond to this argument?
Here's my answer.

There’s at least three meanings to the word ‘love’:
  1. To use something according to its God-given nature and purpose, which can only be fully known through divine revelation, but can be partially known through scientific, empirical examination;
  2. To be committed to the well-being of someone or something – which well-being is defined by aforementioned God-given nature and purpose;
  3. To have feelings of affection for someone or something.
The bible orders our loves as above, 1-2-3. God tells us what things are like and what they are for (1. above). He calls us to be committed to these revealed natures and purposes (2. above). We are to love what God loves – our affections are to follow our God-honouring commitments (3. above).

The world, unsurprisingly, turns this upside-down. We feel affection for someone or something (3. above). No-one has the right to judge these feelings. If I feel nice about someone or something, I ‘commit’ myself to them or to it – until that feeling goes away, that is, then my (so-called) commitment goes away with it (2. above). And I assume that God affirms me in that feelings-based non-commitment, because that’s his job – God is there to validate me and make me feel good about myself.

People can feel affection for - that is, "love" - lots of things: people of the opposite gender, people of the same gender, pets, children, inanimate objects (I love chocolate...). The question is: how are we going to express that affection? How are we going to act on that love?

As I argued in my AFES WebSalt article, same-gender love is a good and healthy thing. The bible says men should have deep feelings of loyalty and affection towards other men - that's how David and Jonathan felt for each other, and Ruth was very loyal to Naomi. But, those relationships were not sexual. Sex belongs in heterosexual marriage because God made human bodies and relational capacities in such a way that sex works best in that marital context. The bible explains it to us by showing the deep connections between sex, marriage, and union with Christ. But we're not dependent upon special revelation: science shows us that our bodies work best, and individuals, families and soceities tend to be happy, when sex is enjoyed within heterosexual marriage.

(Post)modern Western society has sexualised everything. Love = sex; intimacy = sex; joy = sex... everything good = sex! That's why advertising uses so many sexual references. The advertisers know that if they can portray the item in a manner that suggests it enhances your sex life, or gives pleasure equivalent to sexual pleasure, it'll sell.

This rampant sexualisation has happened because (post)modern Western society holds to a reductive materialist ontology: (1) we're nothing more than pleasure-seeking biological organisms; (2) sex is self-evidently the highest pleasure we can experience; (3) therefore, the goal of life is to have the best sex possible. I critiqued this attitude in another one of my AFES WebSalt articles.

We've also lost the ability to have good friends of the opposite gender. Just as we get to know someone of the opposite gender well, we feel like we enter a sexually-charged zone in the relationship, and we either give in and have sex with them, or give up and back off on the friendship and stop getting to know them better. No-one has the courage to stand firm: to defuse the the sexually-charged environment through getting to know the person better, as a person, not just a sex object. For more thoughts on this, see yet another of my AFES WebSalt articles.

So of course we've also lost the ability to have healthy, non-sexual same-gender relationships. If we "love" someone of the same gender, we must have the right to have sex with them if we want to. Or else we've been denied the right to love. But that statement assumes that we have the right to define what it means to "love" that person of the same gender. If God has the right to define what it means to "love" someone, then going against that God-given definition is not actually loving. Regardless of the intention, it's actually abusive. The loving thing to do is actually warn against that abuse.

No comments: