Sunday, June 13, 2010

Some Questions/Comments on that First YMY Post

I'd said some thing about my initial impressions of the book Yes Means Yes over in this here post.

In the comments below my friend Eric had left some interestings which I felt merited a post in response. If anyone else wants to chime in they may feel free to do so either in the original thread, or here. Eric's comments will be in bold, my responses will be in normal text.

Full disclosure, I feel that I owe some of my thought to correspondence with the friend who lent me YMY, much to correspondence with other people and Eric (outside of the comment I am responding to), and a bit to correspondence with the Catholic philosopher Alexander Pruss.

The logic of "consentual sex" is in no way something which can be applied to consenting to marriage.

I am not sure what you mean--do you mean we can't apply it to each act within marriage, or that we can't apply it to the consent one gives to be married in the first place? I disagree either way--a consent, an "I will," is important. Coercion, even if it was not forceful, would certainly cheapen the strength of that will, if not pervert it. "I do" does not indicate an "I will" for all future instances; the question is when in the future "I won't" is acceptable. I don't think you're advocating coercion or force, but certainly within the context of a relationship built on Love, neither ought to be allowed. And if a construction of consent helps to enforce that ban, I'm all for it.

First of all, consenting to marriage is about a union of lives. While modern Christians seem to obsess over the sexual ethics, with some theology of the body people going so far as to suggest that sex is the ultimate realization of the union of marriage, really it's not the main point.

With few exceptions (Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!) it's a pretty clear corollary of the Genesis definition of marriage, which seems to indicate a man and a woman becoming one flesh. A union of lives is certainly present but (again, rare exceptions) I'm not sure how that can not include the physical. I don't necessarily think you're trying to exclude the physical, but in terms of physical realizations, intercourse, aside from a man actually and literally laying down his life for his wife, does seem like it's pretty up there. There are of course other things.

Obsessing over sexual ethics obscures the reality of marriage, and applying the logic of "consentual sex" analogously to marriage adds fuel to the fire.

It's already been obscured. Everyone from Puritans and prudes to libertines and liberals have obscured it. Any husband who's ever beaten his wife or molested his children has obscured it. What the Catholic ethics people are attempting to do might add fuel to the fire. I don't care if it does. But if so their fire will be a cleansing fire, not a further obscurantist fire. I think the caution you've suggested already about not making sex the ultimate goal of marriage is a good one, especially given the counterexamples from the Church's Tradition. But for better or for worse, we live in a world where marriage has been obscured. If everything were clear, if everyone acted in the interest of Love, I think we could talk about an absorption of consent by Love in a similar vein to Wojtyla's talk of absorption of shame by Love--it's not that those things disappear or are not necessary, but that for a given relationship they no longer need to be discussed, at least not so directly, because both persons, acting in the interest of Love, will automatically practice them. If you in your marriage have reached that point, then I applaud that. Do I think some of the feminist movement and sexual ethicists have potential to do more damage in that area of obscuring, or even that they have? Yeah, but good Christian men who go home and do un-Christian things to their households have helped to create the reality that everyone has to wrestle with, which is that we're not yet at a point where Love can really be said to be absorbing anything.

Aside from the fact that agreeing to marriage is not the same thing as agreeing to use each other for pleasure, it should also be remembered that a married couple owes each other what's called the "marriage debt" which I'm sure would be horrifying to those who believe in "consentual sex" (though it should be remembered that men owe it to women as much as women to men).

I don't particularly like to use the language of debt with respect to sexuality. I do of course endorse the language of mutual ownership, but the fact remains the Love does not force. Paul's admonition on the subject--"do not deprive each other except by mutual consent for prayer and fasting" (not verbatim) seems to indicate that if there is that ideal, that if they're not setting aside a time for prayer and fasting, the marriage should indeed have a sex life. If a marriage has none, from a Catholic perspective, something is wrong. I agree; in that case something would be at the least seriously wrong. However, I don't think this justifies the use of coercion

You quote Cho as saying she has several times said yes to sex she actually didn't want to have.

For the record, I don't think that anyone, including Cho, really considers those instances of rape. When I read her testimony, I considered them to be instances of having sex for reasons that were at least less than ideal, if not actually wrong (either on her part and/or someone else's), and would have been less than ideal even if she'd been married.

Maybe by developing a more rigorous language of consent this could be somewhat limited, but if people are being asked to make this sort of decision on the spot the grey area is never going to go away.

A small emotional gray area (perhaps a small doubt of whether one wants to) can be taken along with an explicit willing for something to happen, as safely constituting consent in my book. The larger gray area is if coercion--verbal or alcoholic--is in any way present. So yeah, I'll agree that a small emotional gray is likely to be eliminated.

In fact, it is the sexual revolution that has created this grey area. When sex is restricted to marriage, there is no such "did she really want it... really?" type grey area.

I think we could easily imagine a scenario like Cho's more violent experience happening in a marital context. Doesn't mean it necessarily happens often, but it definitely doesn't close the question of whether a wife perpetually wants it, or perpetually wills it. It just might mean she's decided, oddly enough, to will something else, because it's less effort than going through with the deeper will, which is just "not tonight." And I think we could pretty easily imagine such a scenario having happened anytime in the middle ages just like it might happen today.

This will not go away unless sex outside of marriage on the whole is condemned. "Consentual sex" cannot solve this problem.

Agreed! But it's a necessary condition, not a sufficient condition. And in the meantime, until we have a cultural conversion with respect to sexuality, we're going to want to be able, if we can, to speak as Christians to less-than-Christian conditions. I definitely agree that until everyone is really asking themselves what Love requires--and until everyone has the proper understanding of what, at its basic level, that Love is--our problems, our sad necessity to even talk about what consent means (again, recall, in an ideal world, we wouldn't need to construct a meaning for it, because said need would be absorbed by person who relate to each other in Love)...Until we convert, until we are in a sort of societal sense, resurrected, it's not going to go away. I do condemn sex outside of marriage. But that doesn't mean I desire to see that sin compounded by other sins which are either qualitatively or quantitatively worse. It would be great if the old culture were be baptized and transformed into the new creation. But that's going to take time, and in the meantime, that old culture is going to need bandages.

It is in fact feminism and the sexual revolution which have in the first place made "date rape" and other such difficult middle grounds between consent and violent rape possible,

Great, but feminism didn't do that on its own. Coercion and un-Loving pressure are middle grounds that, while they don't necessarily constitute rape, were definitely there before. The question of date rape is a slightly different one to me, but I'm willing to bet that a number of other movements besides Feminism helped make it happen. Aside from whatever faulty teaching members of the Church--as opposed to the Church's teaching office--may have passed down, again we have the Puritans who, rightly or wrongly, are known for having overestimated the value of sexual shame, and the Libertines who are known for having done pretty much the opposite. I don't necessarily discount the idea that the feminist movement may have exacerbated some of the problems of society, or that said problems include complications relating to our idea of consent, of what it means to 'will' a sex act to happen.

and they will only go away when we reject feminism and the sexual revolution.

I am not ready to agree to this for all definitions of 'feminism,' but for all historically reasonable (that is, not deliberately redeemed by some Christian youth movement) meanings of 'sexual revolution' I would call this a necessary but not sufficient condition. We must invite God, to paraphrase an older Graham Kendrick tune: "Search [us], try [us], consume all our darkness." It's possible that somewhere along the line the Christian tradition began contributing to the confusion; certainly many of us in action, even if not in theory. That's part of the reason I think theory is important, why it's important to build a model of human sexuality that cautions us against coercion, even if it means re-phrasing (not re-interpreting, or mis-construing) our old ideas about what the Pauline injunction to regular physical unity actually means. I prefer to use less abusable language, language prone to--if anything--persuasion as opposed to coercion. I suspect the exact boundaries and lines that each couple must adhere to in order to respond to Love's demands will vary by the context of relationship, but as a general guideline I am more comfortable with the language of "should" than with the language of debt, and it is my belief that while either might be strictly compatible, one is much more likely to lead to bad practice--to moral untruth--than the other. I don't dispute that many couples take the phrasing of 'marriage debt' seriously and interpret it in a way which is not, in the context of their relationship, subject to abuse. And even a "should"--even a "debt," for that matter, has limits on proper method. At the risk of being overly subjective, something about a husband or a wife using the notion of a "debt" (or even a "should," but "should" seems less subject to this problem) doesn't strike me as a very resurrected situation for a marriage to be in. Neither does the notion of a celibate marriage, with few exceptions. It seems like the "should" might be more properly applied to what the two persons will in the first place, so that their wills in the matter move further and further in line with one another and so that neither ever tries--at least not badgeringly--to convince the other on the matter.* Let me be clear: I don't want to or will to excise the Pauline injunction from the Tradition. It can't be done. But I do not consider myself or any other Christian to be bound to the phrasing of "marriage debt," particularly, but not exclusively, due to the baggage it carries today and the abuse it has had over the years as a tool for abuse.

If we are Catholic, why should we draw or understanding of the proper ordering of gender within society from a bunch of largely atheist revolutionaries who have sought to destroy the norms of marriage, when the saints have already taught on the subject?

I'm not sure who precisely you're concerned about. My concern is to figure out where this movement might highlight moral truths that aren't--for whatever reason--talked about as much within the church. I have no desire to rewrite our narratives to match their goals. I do have a desire to see what the truth is in their results, and allow that truth to give further nuance to how I as a Christian construct my response to things, in particular my response to sexuality. But I guarantee you, I have no interest in rewriting the essential Christian narrative of sexuality and/or gender to include perspectives which aren't Christian. I have an interest in moral truth, no matter what its immediate source, and in seeing what the interaction is between that Truth, and our starting points. I have no interest in drawing my ultimate understanding of those things from anything other than an understanding of ourselves as creatures of God in light of the Resurrection.

And do the Saints discuss the subject of marital rape? Of childhood abuse? If so, those aren't exactly the popular or discussed passages. And if nobody's really putting it out there that the Saints have talked about this, and nobody's talking about what they've said, then (as far as me hearing what they've said goes) it doesn't do much to just say "the Saints have talked about this." This isn't just about gender and the basic meanings and contemplations of humans as sexual beings who are creatures of God. This is about how, building on that understanding, our specific conceptualizations of what a right relationship looks like influences our understanding of everything else. I guarantee you, in my mind, the feminist movement comes out substantially less than Good in the eyes of God. But that doesn't mean they haven't walked in shoes we've never walked in (female shoes, to start with) or experienced things we've never experienced (speaking only for myself without intending to imply anything about anyone else who gets involved in this conversation, I have never been abused)...and it doesn't mean--that feminists--even if they may have furthered the obfuscation of sexuality--have nothing valuable to say that can help us get out of the hole of obfuscation of sex that we've gotten into. Just like everyone else has nuances to contribute. Ultimately I do believe the constructions lending themselves most to proper service of Truth will come from the Catholic fold, and that the proper starting points are parts of the Catholic Truth that Christ preached and left to the early Church. That, by the way, goes for every area of life, including but not limited to human sexuality.

I see no reason, unless we are trying to impress the world by saying "don't worry, I'm not so crazy. I can be a feminist too." But why should we be trying to impress the world?

Hopefully, if we're trying to impress the world at all, it's by letting our light shine before it, so that it might see our good deeds and praise our Father in heaven. Don't get me wrong; I have problems with trying to be agreeable, and that's personal stuff that I need to work on for the sake of my relationship with God. It goes, by the way, with whoever I'm talking with, "conservative" or "liberal." But allow me to be very clear about this, lest anyone think otherwise:

I would gladly cast off any label other than Christian, and even that, if I felt it stood in the way of my commitment to Christ and to the Truth.

That said, nobody has yet applied the feminist label to me, and they're not likely to do so. I confess to erring on the side of dialog here (as I usually do), if I am indeed erring. Erring on the other side, however, might result in ignoring legitimate concerns of their movement, and that won't profit myself, the Church, or Christ at all, however, and it might do just the opposite; it might give credence to the view that Christianity that doesn't listen to those who are downtrodden and left-out. Some people are going to view us that way anyway, and that's their problem. But I'm going to do whatever is in my power to strip them of the stupid excuses they feel that 'religion' has given the to ignore it. Sometimes that duty will require me to speak up and correct, to declare what I believe is the wrongness of the world. Sometimes that duty requires me to listen.

My explicit statement in this matter of modern feminist thought, and in all others, is to claim a Catholic--not pre, post or simply modern, not Thomist or personalist, or anything else--Catholicism, in which I am hungry for the Eucharist, for Love, and for Truth and Justice, and with that as my banner and guide, spiritual home and philosophical home-base, to brave the postmodern wilderness and--if God can make me holy enough--help to convert that wilderness into something that looks more like the Kingdom of God.

* I see nothing prima facie wrong with the idea of persuasion on the part of either partner. The exact question of where coercion comes in is a good one, and I'm not sure a single line can be drawn that will be applicable to every individual marriage, because--as with many things--even the two persons and who they are will create a different context of relationship.

5 comments:

Shawn said...

I must admit I'm enjoying this conversation...its time has come. From where I'm sitting, many of the less savory components of "feminism" are essentially self-defense or at worst reactionary. I hope we can all agree that if, medically speaking, there is no reasonable likelihood that either the mom or the baby will survive a pregnancy (say it exists somewhere outside the safety of a uterus)the the best way to treat life as sacred is to salvage the life of the mother (otherwise both lives will be lost). Does it surprise anyone that, when women were the property of their husbands, those women were sacrificed for the sake of a pregnancy that was doomed anyway. The women had no control over their own bodies, and their husbands could hand them a death sentence. Abortion, whether it is induced or spontaneous, is one of the saddest things I deal with as a doctor (and a woman). When the mother's life is on the line, dogma doesn't work. We live in a fallen world, and there is grey. It means we have to think. I believe we all enjoy thinking, so maybe we need to embrace the grey and think/pray/dialog our way through it.

Next, please allow me to address another of my least favorite aspects of feminism, especially in the early days. Women were oppressed. There is no other way to put it. Not being allowed to vote is probably least among the ways oppression was visited on women. The sad part is that women felt the only way to be as valuable as a man was to be like a man. This should make us all sad..."femininity" was sacrificed on the alter of not being second class. Tragic. Feminism has had some unfortunate fall out, but it was necessitated by oppression (generally at the hands of men, often those who used religion and "headship" as a cheap crutch).

To sum up my thoughts, I'm tickled pink (yes, it's a girlie color, and I LIKE it!) to hear men (primarily, so far) having this conversation. It gives me hope for a better future, where we all embrace the unique ways we were designed.

Dan Lower / KKairos said...

I hope we can all agree that if, medically speaking [... n]either the mom or the baby will survive a pregnancy (say it exists somewhere outside the safety of a uterus) the the best way to treat life as sacred is to salvage the life of the mother.

If you're speaking of ectopic or similar pregnancies my understanding is that salvaging is permissible under the Catholic ethic of life, because the act saves the mother's life but has the side effect of killing the child. If you're suggesting that there is a circumstance where direct abortion is acceptable, then as a Catholic I must disagree.

Direct vs. indirect here means that the morality of the act depends on whether the termination of the pregnancy is a side-effect of the sequence of actions taken to save the mother's life, or whether it is an actual step in the sequence of actions.

The other things in your post would require a response that is not fit for the comment box.

Nick said...

From the "traditionalist" standpoint (hehe), there is a reason why Popes over the last few centuries have (repeatedly) spoken out against the idea of the State taking over Marriage (in order to confine it to the secular realm). The problem is that it strips Marriage of it's Sacramental character and thus cuts off it's ultimate ends, which are supernatural (Mat 22:30).

A secular marriage becomes ordered towards what currently benefits society, with it's ends limited only to the present - which is likewise "guided" by the ever changing wind of "popular opinion." This is one of the core reasons why separation of Church and State is impossible for the Christian, and without this foundation any dialogue with "others" (e.g. feminists, Protestants, "Republican Party Catholics") is ultimately futile. Without that foundation, you're conceding 'home field advantage' to the lost, confused, or even downright evil 'opponent' - and at that point it's an up-hill and no-win game for you.

When the ultimate end is to assist their partner in attaining Heaven, things such as rape, grey area, even consent, 'drop out' of the equation because they inherently oppose that ultimate end. The modern notion of 'consent' is inherently wrong because it is not formed by Charity (Love), because it is based on selfishly consenting only when the person consenting sees them self in a position to gain ("take") and not as an unselfish fulfillment of duty. Consent formed by Charity is only possible in the Sacramental context, but at that point it resembles nothing of what the secular reader can make sense of.

The modern notion of consent operates in this framework: "You can only *use* me when *I* gain something from that *use*". That's prostitution. Pope Leo XIII called it "legalized concubinage."

The Catholic notion of "consent" (so-called) operates in different framework: "Through Charity (in which *I* love God and neighbor selflessly), *I* give myself to *You* in order that *You* grow in holiness and maturity as Spouse." (1 Cor 7, esp v3-5) Now, in a fallen world this is not easy for most of us, but it's a clear ideal, which the One True Church promotes and guards.

There is truth to many of the nuances Dan is speaking of, but they need to be re-framed into the Christian framework and not left 'hanging' as if applicable to the secular view of marriage.

EricBrooks said...

Your first question was what I meant by saying there is no analogy between modern "consentual sex" and marriage. I said this because your first post had a comment along the lines of "I would agree to such-and-such a statement in the book, provided its in the context of marriage." If you look up "marriage debt" you will see why there is no analogy.

Marriage does necessarrily include the physical. If two people "marry" with no desire to have sex (or to do so without children) they are entering into something of a sham marriage. What I said is that the physical union of the spouses is not the ultimate end, or the high point, of marriage, no matter how many spiritual analogies modern Catholic sex educators use. When I talk about sex-obsessed theologians, I refer to folks who (at least in practice) seem to see marriage as the central sacrament, and sex as the culmination of married life.

Regardless of whether or not you happen to like the language of debt, it's clear that sex in Christian marriage is not necessarrily consentual in the modern sense, even if it should not for that reason be forced (though it does not mean one can use force or coercion, it is in fact a serious sin to deny one's spouse).

Cho's scenario does not make sense in the context of marriage, because a spouse giving in to the other even though he/she doesn't really want it is not necessarrily a bad thing in marriage, whereas it is in the logic of modern sexuality. I don't say of course that it's an ideal in marriage, but it is something of a duty as far as I understand it.

I don't think it helps anything to praise consentual fornication, simply because it does not pile on other sins. In fact, it may in some way be worse because it stabilizes the sin. Someone who is able to maintain a reasonably stable sex life because they've embraced the rules of consent may be much further from seeing how damndable the whole situation is. Also, it's questionable whether or not it's in some ways truly worse without consent. Certainly it would add sins of coercion or violence, but then most people in these situations know they're doing wrong, and it's only one person willing the evil act. On the other hand, consentual partners may be in a worse situation because (1) they're likely do commit vile acts repeatedly rather than just the one time (2) both people are willing an evil union rather than just one, and (3) the go beyond willing evil to the point of normalizing it and calling it good. It seems to me that people in this situation are only questionably better off morally, and in terms of the possibility of conversion may be much further off.

EricBrooks said...

I did not say feminism created this problem on its own, but that it helps to create the grey areas that make it possible. Obviously the wickedness of man's heart is reason enough for any sin, but we now have a social space in which this sin can be normalized and even embraced as a "lifestyle."

I don't necessarrily reject every possible idea which has ever been called "feminism." As far as that goes, by some liberal definitions of the word, I am a muslim. If there are some "feminisms" which I would find acceptable, they are disconnected from the actualy historical movement. If you call Alice Von Hildebrand a "new feminist" then I become a feminist, but in fact her position is one of opposition to the cultural and moral impact of feminism. I see no reason to constantly redefine the term in such a way that it becomes completely disconnected from the historical movement which gave it its name.

As far as I can tell, I don't really take a label other than Catholic for myself either. I follow Thomas on many questions, but then it's questionable whether or not I know him well-enough to call myself a Thomist, or if I would if I did. Even so, I'm quite certain that we don't agree completely about what being "just Catholic" means, but I'm also quite certain that we don't disagree in any way so big as to make us opponents in any fundamental sense.

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