Saturday, August 26, 2006


What a culture embraces most deeply is seldom articulated. It is, rather, presupposed. The spirit of the times, as Alfred North Whitehead observed, permeates human activity without itself becoming the subject of discussion. People in America, for example, take the notion of freedom for granted and argue about the best way to define and secure it. The West’s secular culture is even less likely to ponder its fundamental convictions.

That culture is given expression via thousands of media messages every hour—in film, television, CDs, magazines, and iPod presentations—but its philosophical roots are largely invisible. The reason for this state of affairs isn’t just the inherent difficulty involved in stepping back to look at the ground upon which one stands. It also involves the fact that, nowadays, there’s so little of substance to see once one attempts that daunting philosophical two-step. There has never been, I think, a culture erected on such a shallow and flimsy foundation.

Freedom is certainly an essential dogma of secular life, as it was of the culture that preceded it. But the purpose of post-modern freedom is largely undefined. Within secular culture the idea that individuals can do “whatever they want” is reiterated ad nauseam—a mantra that makes self-actualization a vacuous objective. Correspondingly, the idea that people “should” do certain things, except for recycling, is given short shrift. Even the much-touted virtue of “tolerance,” analyzed critically, turns out to be a non-negotiable demand that non-secular folks give up their beliefs about how people “ought” to behave.

This purposeless freedom, freedom for its own sake, is a concept that feeds into the popular notion of “pushing the envelope.” Those who employ this phrase typically do so with the tacit assumption that destroying taboos is a “progressive” enterprise—an activity that puts taboo-breakers on a higher plane than individuals who dwell in the passé world of moral restriction.

Accordingly, not being able to pillory moralists represents an intolerable inhibition on “artistic freedom” among bi-coastals who view cultures that take blasphemy seriously as primitive and theocratic. What one expects to gain by normalizing cultural depravity, exhibited most completely in gangsta rap, need not be articulated beyond vacuous clichés like “openness” and “freedom of expression.” A vague romantic hope persists that, somehow, with the aid of science and midnight basketball, utopian bliss will break out once nine-year-olds can swear proficiently and are no longer naïve about the varieties of sexual expression.

The apotheosis of “individual freedom” also requires the abolition of concepts like natural law. There are, it seems, no self-evident truths. Even distinctions between male and female are treated as arbitrary constructs. Just as individuals can be whatever they want to be, so families and marriages can be constituted in ways restricted only by our capacity to imagine them.

Tepid and unimaginative formulations that concern direct harm done to other individuals (“My freedom to swing my fist ends at your nose.”) limit the possibilities of self-expression under this cultural myth that also embraces a godless universe that is itself devoid of freedom.

Scrutinized rationally, the “rights” that are constantly touted in secular culture turn out to be a function of raw power. This fearful symmetry explains the fondness antinomians have for elaborate government structures that both bear the blame for individual sins and constitute the awesome Leviathan that keeps anarchy at bay. These Hobbesian “rights” aren’t derived from a Creator. Rather, they emerge from the struggle of individuals against each other in a world defined primarily by the “sovereigns” Pleasure and Pain.

Youngsters raised within this cultural framework are told to view nature as a meaningless fluke that must, nevertheless, be revered and preserved; they are told to view their existence as accidental and their desires as “rights”; they are told (dozens of times every day) to look down upon religion as a childish delusion rooted in wish fulfillment; and they are told that corporate pimps must be allowed to corrupt the souls of children for the sake of “freedom.” Is it any wonder that many of these persons, as young adults, find more nourishing, and even more reasonable, an intransigent religion that boldly preaches the exact opposite?

Thursday, August 17, 2006


“Why shouldn’t gays be allowed to marry?” Nowadays, the question has a prima facie persuasiveness that’s akin to the popular rhetorical challenge, “Who’s to say what’s right and wrong?” Another trait these queries share is the likelihood that persons confronting them will be reduced to stammering incoherence. The main reason for this detour into dementia isn’t that opponents of gay marriage are idiots. It is rather that the case against same-sex unions requires more strenuous philosophical lifting than the case for it.

Rhetorical Challenges

Proponents of this radical domestic innovation possess a pocketful of bumper sticker appeals--including the aforementioned “Who’s to say” argument. “It’s not fair” and “It’s discrimination” are two other easily developed themes. Then there’s the protest that people who “love each other” should be encouraged, not discouraged, to commit themselves to their male-female, male-male, or female-female partners. Why, after all, should heterosexuals who decry the social damage caused by divorce be in the business of discouraging commitment among homosexual couples? Finally, there is that familiar prosecutorial inquiry, “How does it hurt you if someone else marries a person of the same sex?” Several decades earlier Phil Donahue and his talk-show pals touted sexual license by employing similar questions: “Why would you stand in the way of someone’s happiness?” So much is presupposed in these “beating-your-wife” challenges that no simple reply is possible.

Glibly articulated sound bites work well in mass media. By contrast, when one is obliged to defend an institution that has never been challenged and ideas that have almost always been taken for granted, the speaker faces a daunting task. Quickly! Why must women marry men? Who is hurt if you let people marry whomever they want? Who made you the marriage czar?

When Socrates, in Plato’s Republic, explored the nature of justice, his arguments rested on assumptions that he shared with his interlocutors. In Book One of this extended dialogue, the impetuous Thrasymachus, after having been argued into a corner by his verbal sparring partner, rashly asserts that justice is bad and injustice good. This novel perspective, Socrates declares, makes his own task much more difficult. Most persons take for granted that justice is good and argue over its proper definition. Socrates, however, is now forced to demonstrate for his auditors something more fundamental--the superiority of justice to injustice.

Defending male-female marriage is akin to defending the value of justice over injustice. It’s seldom done, and the issues are so basic that people are inclined to fall silent. Certainly, no simple slogan serves as an adequate defense of this previously unquestioned proposition. Replying that “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” isn’t compelling--especially when addressing secular audiences inclined to equate religious faith with stupidity.

As Socrates was forced to ponder the essence of justice and injustice in response to Thrasymachus’ assertion, so advocates for the traditional definition of marriage are faced with the task of explaining to short-attention-span Americans plausible reasons why male-female unions ought to remain the norm. Those explanations, however condensed, must include an analysis of the essential nature of marriage.

Marriage: Procreation and Commitment

Marriage is a institution that ties procreation to commitment. This newly-minted but long-presupposed definition should constitute the heart of any defense of traditional marriage. For centuries marriage has revolved around pledges of loyalty made by husbands and wives to each other. “In sickness and in health, for richer or poorer” are words familiar to all Americans. Until recently the phrase “as long as you both shall live” was part of most wedding ceremonies. These vows of commitment aren’t important simply as expressions of the love that two individuals have for each other. They are also significant because marriages are consummated, and those sexual unions produce babies. Marriage, therefore, not only links two people to vows of commitment, it also links commitment to family.

Not all marriages result in children, but marriages aren’t complete--according to law and language--apart from consummation. And acts of consummation produce, for most couples, the children that Roman Catholic theology has rightly linked to acts of intercourse. Indeed, this link between consummation and reproduction is so pronounced that husbands and wives go to considerable contraceptive lengths to frustrate it. With same-sex couples the situation is reversed--and more so. Not only are biological offspring never a result of sexual intimacy, the acquisition of children is an arduous process fraught with legal hurdles. No matter how committed the parties, same-sex unions can never be linked, via consummation, to the creation of a family.

Heretofore, marriage has provided a framework, rooted in vows of commitment, for the raising of children. Though imperfectly realized, that ideal has served to sublimate--to place within the bounds of exalted purpose--mere acts of propagation. Absent this larger framework, intercourse tends to assume the raw visage of animalian instinct. C. S. Lewis once observed that a single man’s desires, freely indulged, would soon suffice to populate a small village.(1) Traditional marriage restrains such impulses because it sets forth the expectation that father and mother will provide a home for the fruit of their passion.

Same-sex marriage, by its very nature, dismisses this link between marriage and propagation. Few heterosexual unions remain childless. All same-sex unions are barren. This biological fact of life renders the term “shotgun wedding” meaningless as regards an entire class of persons--individuals who say their marriages are based on the same principles as everyone else. Though hardly a happy image, this coercive practice (based on whatever stigma still attends out-of-wedlock birth) bears further witness, alongside the term “illegitimate,” to the essential link between marriage and children.

Should marriage be forced to accommodate same-sex commitments, it is hard to believe that this revised institution will continue to be viewed as the ideal framework for raising the offspring that same-sex couples cannot, by themselves, produce. Marital unions will likely focus even more exclusively on the feelings that two people have for each other--and even less on the children that one class of married pairs can, and another can’t, produce. This intensified focus on feelings will expedite the delinkage of sex, marriage, and family that began in the 60’s with the era of convenient birth control. Such marriages, lacking the substantive bond between feelings and family, are destined to be as short-lived as nuptials sealed with a vow to be faithful “as long as we both shall love.”(2)

For some time it has been fashionable to disparage couples who look to maternity as a way to save their marriages. The problem with this desperate logic, however, isn’t that it’s totally benighted. Instead, this reasoning puts the child at the wrong end of the marital relationship--as glue to mend what is already broken. Ideally, children are mutually desired centers of affection that serve to strengthen existing bonds. The spilled-milk approach to parenthood recognizes, only belatedly, the ephemeral nature of feelings not tied to something as tangible and enduring as “our baby.”

Marriage and Child-Rearing

It is hard to fathom the intellectual obstinacy needed to deny what seems a prima facie argument on behalf of male-female marriage—namely, that children are best raised within two-parent, male-female homes. Yet individuals frequently cite a handful of limited and ambiguous studies in order to “prove” the opposite of what nature and common sense would suggest.(3)

What is incontrovertible, however, even within the dubious world of social science, is that children raised by two parents (who, as of now, “happen to be” male and female) are more successful on measures of social, emotional, and educational welfare than children lacking one or the other parent due to divorce or abandonment. What I think is equally plain is that a definition of marriage that ignores male-female consummation, and thus the link between marriage and family, will open the door (or rather, the floodgates) to a view of sexual relations that ignores children altogether.

Same-sex unions need not worry about having and educating offspring--a fact that clearly contributes to the short-term character of most homosexual pairings.(4) Until recently opposite sex couples were obliged by society to worry about such matters. Under a regime of same-sex marriage, men and women will doubtless think less about these duties than they do today. After all, so goes the self-interested logic, if “studies prove” that kids are OK with same-sex guardians, why shouldn’t they be OK in less controversial domestic arrangements that also fall short of a presumably-discredited ideal?

Some homosexual advocates agree that, optimally, children should have two, married, male-female parents. They concede that it makes sense to prefer intimate role models of maleness, femaleness, and male-female domestic relations. But they deny that same-sex marriage undermines this ideal. This optimistic assessment seems implausible given the positive public attention already received by gay couples--and even gay singles--who go to great lengths to birth or adopt children. On the contrary, what seems to be emerging is a view of marriage that ignores not only the connection between marriage, procreation, and child-rearing but also the link between male-female parents and domestic training. This is precisely the scenario suggested by relevant statistics following the institution of gay marriage in Scandanavian countries.

In Sweden, where gay unions were made legal in 1994, marriage rates hit an historic low in 1997.(5) Meanwhile, out-of-wedlock births in 2001 rose to a record high of 55%. In Norway, where elites foisted gay marriage upon a reluctant country in 1993, illegitimate births rose from 39% to 50% by the end of the decade. Finally, in Denmark, which provided for gay unions in 1989, the out-of-wedlock birth rate for first-born children has increased to 60%--a figure that indicates a growing wall of separation between marriage and procreation in the minds of young Danes.

These numbers provide convincing evidence that under a regime of same-sex marriage even more children than today will be raised in homes that have no intimate male-female model. We should not pretend, for the sake of tolerance, that such homes are “just as good,” psychologically speaking, as homes where children see mothers and fathers interacting almost every day. Children who grow up in fatherless or motherless homes know that something is missing. If it is missing because of an accident, that’s tragic. If it is missing due to divorce, that’s regrettable. But if it is missing by design, then that situation is a socially sanctioned form of child abuse.

People might argue, based on the preceding observation, that same-sex marriage should be legal just as divorce and single-parenthood are permitted. This comparison is misleading. The latter circumstances are not (at least not yet) viewed as ideals to be celebrated. Instead, they are concessions to weakness and occasions for grief. The same-sex equivalency argument would transform all these domestic arrangements into joyous states mirroring a bride-groom wedding. Only minds untouched by divorce, clouded by the rigors of single parenthood, or blinded by ideology could seriously entertain such an empirically unwarranted equation.

Furthermore, children actually reared within same-sex households are not only deprived of male-female domestic models, they are also deprived of a family within which reproductive desire is channeled into a framework of familial affection. After all, no homosexual union, within or without marriage, has reproductive significance. Consequently, children raised in these environments will almost certainly be less prepared for male-female relationships, less likely to view those relationships in the context of a family, and more likely to indulge the variety of impulses that constitute the erotic profile of most humans.

The Fish or Fowl Myth

Over the last two decades we have been given to understand that each person is “straight” or “gay” in the same way that people are born with blue or brown eyes. Sit-coms (today’s preferred propaganda tool) assert this notion with a repetitive vengeance. Yet no body of evidence comes close to confirming this dogma. Meanwhile evidence for the malleability of sexual expression is right before our eyes--yet ignored in the name of political correctness.

It is now fashionable for Hollywood types (as with Jerry Springer guests) to declare themselves “bisexual”--a term that raises huge problems for devotees of the I’m-just-that-way school of thought. Also increasingly prevalent are stories about “gay” celebrities who later link up with members of the opposite sex. Ellen DeGeneres’ one-time partner, Anne Heche, is a prominent example. Diversity of this stripe leads individuals who embrace the fish or fowl dogma in disconcerting directions.

Is bisexuality genetic? If so, are bisexuals condemned by their chemistry to be promiscuous? Are threesomes and groups the next “progressive” innovations? How does “being who I am, sexually” differ from sheer indulgence of whatever erotic urges happen to emerge from regions just south of the navel? Is self-restraint always verboten--or only sometimes? And how is one to know which impulses are “me” and which are gratuitous?

People more intent on being non-judgmental than on providing guidance for the next generation aren’t inclined to ponder these questions. They would rather blindly embrace what is politically palatable--that children’s sexual habits are inflexibly set--than confront the “lesbian chic” experimentation that now pervades college life. Cognitive dissonance is resolved by denying or ignoring the evidence at hand.

Here’s the bottom line of this train of thought. The popular idea that boys and girls aren’t affected by their sexual environment is clearly a myth. Even a recent study conducted by researchers sympathetic to the gay agenda now says as much. These sociologists admit, gingerly, what was previously denied because most folks would have found the conclusions highly objectionable. Today, however, in a society where “gay marriage” is promoted on a par with “straight marriage,” the aversion to homosexuality has been so minimized that the air-brushed truth can be told. Children raised by homosexual partners “seem to grow up to be more open to homeoerotic relations.”(6)

Sex-Ed and Gay-Marriage

What is true for children raised in same-sex households is true to a lesser extent for all children--boys and girls who may soon be forced by avant garde health teachers to ask themselves at the age of ten just which sex they think about marrying. That’s a perverse load to put on kids who have yet to reach puberty. Only ideological zealots, moral ostriches, and confirmed couch potatoes could possibly think a “freedom” of this sort is anything but an invitation to social chaos.

Progressive views of sex have taken us from an illegitimacy rate of 4% in 1950 to 33% today--and from under 20% to almost 70% among blacks. The idea that legitimizing homosexual marriage will stanch or reverse that trend requires a degree of self-deception that borders on the psychotic. Adolescents invited to explore their sexual identity will not sit quietly in the corner until they choose A or B-- especially not when “bisexual” or “polymorphous” are among the options that a society bereft moral backbone is putting on the table.

At a meeting of very tolerant church folks, I was discussing, as politely as possible, some of the off-putting and dangerous practices that are erotic norms among male homosexuals. [I invite readers to peruse the NARTH website.(7)] The general reaction ranged from denial to disbelief. One commentator went so far as to assert that homosexual sex and gay marriage had nothing to do with each other--an assertion equivalent to denying that consummation is linked to marriage. Most of these people seemed to believe that same-sex intercourse involves no greater medical risks than heterosexual relations and that only a geographical accident caused AIDS to be vastly more prevalent among America’s homosexuals than among heterosexuals.

If putative adults are abysmally ignorant of the nature and medical consequences of male homosexuality, how much more are their media-molded children kept in the dark about the dangers of acts that constitute an open invitation to disease and death. The portraits that children constantly see and hear in the media falsely portray gay sex as a benign variation of heterosexual relations. About nothing are same-sex proponents so deceptive as the normal erotic practices of homosexuals. Any culture that puts a seal of approval on gay marriage is as much as inviting its children to engage in forms of sexual expression that are both sterile and dangerous--practices that have no natural connection to the creation of a family.

Arguing for Armageddon

The philosopher Edmund Burke would sympathize with those who face the task of painting a plausible portrait of a hypothetical future. There are so many subtle interconnections that one can hardly imagine the impact of even minor changes. Despite the assurances of pundits whose views are assiduously attuned to tenor of the Times, a change of the magnitude now contemplated will surely have enormous consequences--consequences that may dwarf even the devastating effects of the sixties sexual revolution.

Bumper-stickers can proclaim the onset of Armageddon, but they cannot make an argument for it. It is incumbent upon defenders of traditional marriage, therefore, to ponder realistically and rationally, the shape of a culture that has rejected one of history’s most fundamental assumptions--an assumption rooted in the reproductive facts of life.

Marriage has been at the heart of our rise from savagery to civilization. I do not think that future generations will bless us for severing its already damaged root--the one linking propagation to commitment.

(1) Mere Christianity, Book III, Ch. 5, “Sexual Morality.”

(2) William Bennett relates the story of a couple who pledged to stay together “as long as we both shall love.” His suggestion for a wedding gift was paper plates.

(3) The tenuous and even contradictory nature of these very limited studies can be seen in Charlotte Patterson’s highly tendentious article summarizing studies prior to 1992, “Children of Lesbian and Gay Parents,” Child Development, V. 63, 1992.

(4) McWhirter and Mattison, The Male Couple: How Relationships Develop (Englewood Cliffs, Prentice-Hall, 1984). Gay authors Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen observed, “Alas, it turns out that, on this point, public myth is supported by fact. There is more promiscuity among gays...than among straights.” Even among committed partners, they observe, “the cheating ratio, given enough time, approaches 100%.” Cf. After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90's (Doubleday, 1989).

(5) All Scandanavian figures come from Stanley Kurtz, “Beyond Gay Marriage,” The Weekly Standard, August 4, 2003.

(6) Stacey and Biblarz, American Sociological Review, 2001.

(7) National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, John R. Diggs Jr., “The Health Risks of Gay Sex.” Cf. also R.S. Hogg, et al., International Journal of Epidemiology, Vol 26, No. 3, 657-661. “In a major Canadian centre, life expectancy at age 20 years for gay and bisexual men is 8 to 20 years less than for all men.”

Saturday, August 12, 2006


Ask youngsters weaned on electronic communications what they believe is morally important, then buckle your seat belt if you happen to believe in such antiquated notions as fixed moral standards. It will become painfully clear that a new electronic decalogue has replaced the set-in-stone tablets published by Sinai Press. Though specific versions vary, all closely resemble the following list:

#1 Be yourself.
#2 Follow your feelings.
#3 Do what makes you happy.
#4 Like yourself.
#5 Don't let anyone tell you what to do.
#6 Never impose your values on others.
#7 Beware of guilt.
#8 Blame authority figures.
#9 Be politically correct.
#10 Be open.

Most of these injunctions are, to put it mildly, flexible. But that's the point. Morality is, more or less, whatever you want it to be. It's up to you to set your own rules. What's important is being “true to your own values” and doing what you feel is right. The only limitations placed on this unrestrained freedom are commandments which forbid “imposing” your own views on others and the largely implicit requirement that youngsters follow the Hollywood line in political matters--liberal, socially libertarian, and greenish.

The self-contradictory “don't-impose-your-values” commandment--an imperative which requires nonimposition--appears to be a barrier against the chaos that would result if people actually gave free reign to their feelings. Unfortunately, this decree ignores the very real harm that results from the reckless behavior it also encourages. When “doing your own thing” is the cultural expectation, many more children, for example, are raised in fatherless homes. Yet this “practical imposition” of fatherlessness is of no concern to folks whose primary goal is to reject the ethical claims that others have on them. To employ a vehicular analogy, the contemporary rule of nonimposition implies that freeway speedsters don’t affect traffic flow or endanger lives until they begin to bark orders out the window. This rule also discounts the immense power of example and peer pressure. As far as these new-age lawgivers are concerned, each person is “an island, entire of itself” who influences and is influenced by no one else. Ironically, everyone in this imaginary society of unrelated atoms is expected to embrace the same absurd ethical paradigm. Though each person supposedly “has his own opinion” about morality, everyone is expected to accept this basic philosophical principle without further ado.

Another exception to the “doing your own thing” rule is the requirement of openness. This new commandment doesn't mean that people must tolerate or be polite to persons with whom they disagree. Instead, it means acceptance of practices at odds with traditional beliefs. Openness, in other words, is a one-way street. People are expected to regard as morally acceptable lifestyles inconsistent with orthodox Islamic, Jewish, or Christian teaching. But to assume such an attitude logically means that one must reject traditional religious teachings--teachings which are now portrayed as closed-minded by pop-cultural missionaries.

In truth, openness is a code word for political correctness. Thus, this tenth commandment amounts to little more than a covert reiteration of the ninth. Together these imperatives transform ethics from an endeavor focused largely on personal actions to an enterprise which emphasizes political belief. Morality becomes the province of “macro” issues--often economic. “Micro” or personal matters such as illegitimacy, drug addiction, and crime are seen as problems that will automatically disappear once evils such as unemployment, poverty, and racism are properly addressed. At least so goes the party line.

In effect, political correctness provides an ideological fig leaf for self-indulgence--a means to divert attention from matters that concern us intimately and toward things that concern us indirectly. Whether one commits adultery or lies to a spouse becomes “a private matter” and “nobody's business.” Likewise, under this new regime, having an abortion is called “a personal choice.” But woe be unto the person who veers from the party line when it comes to rain forests, animal rights, or alternative lifestyles.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


In 1950 a book came out sporting this provocative title: Science is a Sacred Cow. That reverential attitude is still reflected in most reportage and certainly on CNN’s News from Science and Medicine. Discouraging words about the enterprise are about as frequent as tropical storms in San Diego. Every wonder-filled syllable fosters the impression that truth reigns supreme in this discipline where the foibles of human nature have been, for all practical purposes, overcome.

Enter Richard Lindzen, a professor of atmospheric science at MIT. A few months ago Lindzen composed an article for the Wall Street Journal that put another face on the work of his colleagues—a very human face.

Specifically, Lindzen pointed to institutional forces that work to silence dissenting voices in the global warming debate. Editors of professional journals, he charged, regularly discouraged papers that did not reflect what was becoming the “party line” on the topic. Moreover, articles that took a contrary position on the topic were subjected to prejudicial treatment and “discredited” without providing time for reasonable dialogue. Persons once considered authorities were suddenly ignored or even vilified.

The reason for this rush toward consensus, in Lindzen’s view, is simple. Ideas that promote a crisis mentality generate greater publicity and funding, just as ideas that undercut a crisis mentality threaten to separate researchers from their cash cows.

Lindzen notes that federal climate research dollars have grown from “a few hundred million dollars” before 1990 “to $1.7 billion today.” That’s 1.7 billion reasons to join the bandwagon. And one can be sure that those incentives will grow as more studies come out with the “proper” results.

The notion that scientific communities are somehow above the social and psychological dynamics that function in every other area of human activity is an illusion rooted in ignorance and wishful thinking. Viewed in historical perspective, science frequently exhibits the typical philosophical excesses of its era. The works of German and American eugenicists, circa 1920, are instructive in this regard.

Furthermore, just a little historical knowledge is all that would be necessary to dispense with the ridiculous phrase “we now know” that regularly accompanies reports that contradict studies broadcast with the same triumphant phrase ten years earlier.

What most people don’t know is that “absolute proof” is next to impossible in an enterprise where “models” or “paradigms” regularly figure prominently in the investigative mix--determining both the terms to be used and procedures to be followed. Accordingly, the philosopher Karl Popper emphasized the “falsifiability” of scientific assertions and stressed the importance of maintaining an open society where questioning is encouraged.

The tentativeness of scientific assertions and the humanity of scientists are two facts that are inconvenient for Al Gore—a politician whose zeal to shut down debate betokens not a passion for truth but rather raw ambition.