Friday, June 20, 2008

Slate essay on culture war and sexual orientation.

Liberals are slow to see what's coming. They're still fighting the culture war. The Toronto Star, like other papers, finds a neuroscientist who thinks the new study "should erode the moral judgments often made against homosexual preferences and rebut any argument that it is a mere a lifestyle choice." Well, yes. But then what? The reduction of homosexuality to neurobiology doesn't mean your sexual orientation can't be controlled. It just means the person controlling it won't be you.

Conservatives may be equally slow to see what is coming, or both sides are potentially blind to what has already come. If it is possible to manipulate the direction of sexual orientation within the womb isn't this tampering with "nature"? Considering the battles about ethics and science we'll always have with us there seems to be a paradox or outright contradiction that can happen for both sides. If it isn't wrong to abort the fetus why would it be wrong to redesign the fetus in the womb so that it will have a sexual orientation the parents feel more comfortable with and is more congruent with their religious beliefs? Conversely, if aborting the fetus is wrong because it interferes with a process that should naturally run its course how do we justify using hormone or other treatments to change the sexual orientation of our babies in utero? I'm not saying a consistent position can't be arrived at, just that the alacrity with which either the liberal or conservative embrace one aspect and not the other can be discouraging because it seems that both sides are cherry-picking principles to arrive at particular conclusions.

I think the first principle would be to begin with Jesus' rhetorical question before He healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, "Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath? To save a life or to kill?" The man stretched out his hand and it was healed, and that became the basis for Jesus' enemies to seek a way to kill him from very early in the Gospel of Mark.

It is interesting what we may excuse in presidents and excoriate in ordinary people. A president is allowed the license to kill people we consider worthy of death or not worthy of life, yet we wouldn't permit someone to make such a decision for an individual. It's not that I don't appreciate that the need to make such decisions exists, just that I'm ruminating on how we seem to cherry-pick who gets to choose who lives and who dies. We would like to cherry-pick who can decide what tampering needs to be done in utero with the life of someone else.

The older I get and the more I consider what Scripture says and how people rationalize selective killing the more I can respect the position that opposing both abortion and the death penalty seems biblically defensible. If you oppose one and not the other you're not applying the principle of preserving life consistently, or so it seems to me. And arguing that fetuses ought to be able to be aborted but that parents should not then have the privilege of selecting or altering gender or orientation would be so fraught with problems I would advise liberals, for their own good, to not even go there. I would also suggest conservatives consider the arguments for why one form of pre-natal alteration is justified and the other isn't and to square that with the traditionally proposed argument that orientation is a lifestyle choice. If you concede that pre-natally altering the orientation of your child would be desirable isn't that admitting that there is a biological and pre-natal influence on orientation your child has no control over but that you, potentially, MAY have control over? DOes that mean parents are now going to be held responsible by God for the immorality of their children if they had it in their power to change junior's orientation to straight but didn't because they couldn't afford to make that sacrifice? I don't really know and I admit I'm just pondering things on a blog.


dudleysharp said...

I think you miss the basic positions with regard to anti abortion and pro death penalty.

It is the killing of innocents vs the execution of guilty murderers.

Theologically, that is fairy solid.

Catholic and other Christian References: Support for the Death Penalty
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info below
Religious positions in favor of capital punishment are neither necessary not needed to justify that sanction. However, the biblical and theological record is very supportive of the death penalty.
Many of the current religious campaigns against the death penalty reflect a fairly standard anti death penalty message, routed in secular arguments. When they do address  religious issues, they often neglect solid theological foundations, choosing, instead, select biblical sound bites which do not impact the solid basis of death penalty support.

The strength of the biblical, theological and traditional support for the death penalty is, partially, revealed, below.
Some references:
(1)"The Death Penalty", Chapter XXVI, 187. The death penalty, from the book Iota Unum, by Romano Amerio, 
Thoughtful deconstruction of current Roman Catholic teaching on capital punishment by a faithful Catholic Vatican insider.
in a blog
titled "Amerio on capital punishment "Friday, May 25, 2007 
 (2)  "Catholic and other Christian References: Support for the Death Penalty", at

 (3)  "Capital Punishment: A Catholic Perspective" at
(4) "The Purpose of Punishment (in the Catholic tradition)", by R. Michael Dunningan, J.D., J.C.L., CHRISTIFIDELIS, Vol.21,No.4, sept 14, 200


(7) "God’s Justice and Ours" by Antonin Scalia, First Things, 5/2002

(8)  "A Seamless Garment In a Sinful World" by John R. Connery, S. J., America, 7/14/84, p 5-8).

(9) "The Death Penalty", by Solange Strong Hertz at

(10) "Capital Punishment: What the Bible Says", Dr. Lloyd R. Bailey, Abingdon Press, 1987. The definitive biblical review of the death penalty.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Nah, you're completely missing the point, which is that conservative Christians need to articulate why it's justifiable to not kill the infant in utero but it is justifiable to change its sexual orientation given the debate about whether sexual orientation is a lifestyle choice, a result of early development problems, or biological variables. Can a Christian articulate clearly why it would be wrong to kill the fetus but not wrong to pre-emptively ensure it does not grow up into a practicing homosexual if biological variables are accountable?

The pro-choice advocate is hosed in this situation because he or she can't simultaneously say that the would-be parent has every right to kill the unborn child but no right to predetermine its sexual orientation. On the other hand, just because the pro-choice advocate can't make a defensibly consistent position doesn't mean a pro-life Christian isn't obligated to address certain arguments in advance. The stuff about abortion and the death penalty isn't even the main point. If you feel strongly about the death penalty being the right and Christian position that's your deal, but it may have blinded you to what my real concern is, that Christians will need to grapple continuously with the ethics of advancing medical technology and some historically common positions. If homosexuality is a lifestyle choice in the eyes of many conservative Christians then how do we square the potential use of pre-emptive medical procedures to determine the sexual orientation of the child in utero?