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The Development of Sex, Marriage, and Nature in Christian Thought

July 9, 2013

“To have intercourse without intending children is to violate nature, which we must take as our teacher.” – Clement of Alexandria

Dante_Gabriel_Rossetti_-_Francesca_Da_RiminiThroughout many traditions of Christian thought, theologians have taken nature, by which they’ve generally meant human nature, as an instructor of moral norms. It would be a mistake to read “nature” here as simply descriptive of what occurs in nature, as if these occurrences provided moral norms or precepts; rather, nature teaches because nature has purpose. Christian morality is usually teleological: one ought to do the good, and the good is that which brings a being completion or fulfillment. Knowledge of truth is good for human beings because human beings are rational creatures. Health is good for us because we’re living creatures. This, in a nutshell, is the natural law tradition.

You can see this basic moral framework in the claim of Clement of Alexandria (150-215) that I quoted above. You might have noted that Clement’s reasoning, while appealing to nature, takes a much stricter line than most of today’s Christians, the Catholic hierarchy included, on what nature morally permits. Where today you’ll hear the pope forbid his followers from frustrating conception or engaging in sex outside the form that would typically lead to procreation, you won’t hear him tell Catholics that they must intend pregnancy with every act of sex. Catholic thought has developed just a little bit.

Clement’s reasoning avoided the nuances that trouble Catholics today attempting to explain their church’s somewhat confusing teaching. For him, sex was strictly for procreation and therefore marriage was strictly for those who could procreate. No marriage for the young or old. No sex during times of infertility. Pretty simple. In fact, Clement specified when during the day those permitted to marry could have sex: no intercourse “after coming home from church or from the marketplace or early in the morning like a rooster, for these are the proper times for prayer and reading and the other deeds done during the day.” For all his keeping of nature’s rules and regulations, Clement was a defender of sex and marriage against gnostic sects of his day that taught their followers and other Christians to renounce and refrain from sex and marriage, believing these epitomized the condition of human sinfulness.

Comparing this theology of sex to the larger tradition brings to light the differences in the way nature has been understood throughout the history Christian thought. The meaning and moral application of nature has a history of difference and development, even where those who use the term mean to refer to some absolute, as was the case for Clement and is the case for the contemporary Roman hierarchy. Augustine , for example, also preached that conjugal intercourse for any sake other than procreation, even within marriage, carries some fault; but he, believing marriage has a purpose and natural order including but beyond simply procreation, called lustful sex in the context of marital fidelity a “forgivable fault.” Not exactly praise, but looking back we can see how a forgivable fault could become, in time, something morally neural and possibly virtuous.

Looking at this development, I’m particularly intrigued by the fact that, within the same basic framework of natural moral order, an act that was once thought to be absolutely forbidden (marital sex not intending procreation) became considered a “forgivable fault” and eventually received blessing from authorities on high. Makes me curious what developments of thought lay ahead, especially, as I hope, the church learns from and incorporates feminine and feminist perspectives on the matter.

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67 Comments
  1. Ronald King permalink
    July 9, 2013 8:35 am

    I will venture to say that without lust there is an absence of fun, sex and bonding. It just ain’t natural without lust.

    • July 9, 2013 5:13 pm

      This is an excellent point, Ronald. In Church documents there is talk about the unitive and procreative ends of marriage, but also a lot of warnings against lust. Now of course it is possible to use one’s spouse as a mere outlet for pleasure, or as an object–that would be a legitimate example of lust in the negative, theological sense.

      The way such documents tend to sound, however, implies that sexual desire for one’s spouse is lust in the Seven Deadly Sins sense of the word. A good example of how St. John Paul II, for example, managed to make wanting to get it on with your spouse sound vaguely disreputable while at the same time causing the reader to wonder what the heck he was even saying, can be found here.

      Everyone would agree that bulimia (the morbid desire to gorge on food) or an obsession with food that dieters sometimes get is disordered; but no one would say that feeling hungry and looking forward to a good meal is shady or borderline sinful, or that it’s sinful unless one is hungry for a good, nutritious meal made at home from natural ingredients, by someone that loves you, etc. If you read enough of the Theology of the Body, though, it pretty much implies, without saying it quite in so many words, that feeling randy and looking forward to a good…well, you know…is shady and sinful, even if it’s your spouse, unless it’s a perfectly natural, non-contraceptive, fully emotionally involved, totally self-giving, etc. etc. etc.

      Such a teaching tends to set up an impossibly high standard and to conflate lust with natural desire. I know a couple whose sex life was very much damaged by this type of things, and who ended up divorcing (there were more factors than that in play, but it sure didn’t help).

  2. July 9, 2013 10:19 am

    For all his keeping of nature’s rules and regulations, Clement was a defender of sex and marriage against gnostic sects of his day that taught their followers and other Christians to renounce and refrain from sex and marriage, believing these epitomized the condition of human sinfulness.

    What I want to know, then, is how did Clement justify his monkish state of “perpetual celibacy.” My understanding of it is that he was following CHRIST, who advocated being “eunuchs for the kingdom’s sake,” which is not “natural” at all. Instead, it’s an injunction to overcome “nature.”

    It seems to me that, in all this debate over “sacramental” and “traditional marriage,” the Catholic Church, especially, has been indulging in a virtual idolatry of the connubial state, and has been tacitly denying what the Scriptures clearly indicate–that perpetual celibacy–a very UN-”natural” state–is the highest calling.

    If something called “Nature” teaches that the sexually coupled state is the optimal one, and the early Christian Scriptures reject this “natural teaching,” how come all of this constant appeal to “natural law” regarding the most morally appropriate sexual behaviour?

    Isn’t it very clear–not only from the practice and preachings of Jesus and His original disciples, but also from how the ORIGINAL Roman Catholic ecclesia read those exhortations–that there’s a lot more sympathy in historical orthodox theology for “Gnosticism” than devotees of such Romantic and modernist rubbish as the “Theology of the Body” would have it?

    • July 9, 2013 5:17 pm

      Isn’t it very clear–not only from the practice and preachings of Jesus and His original disciples, but also from how the ORIGINAL Roman Catholic ecclesia read those exhortations–that there’s a lot more sympathy in historical orthodox theology for “Gnosticism” than devotees of such Romantic and modernist rubbish as the “Theology of the Body” would have it?

      If one actually reads early Church documents and histories and compares them with Gnostic practice, there’s little doubt of this. I actually blogged about that idea a while back over here.

  3. Hebridean permalink
    July 9, 2013 12:45 pm

    I think a word study would have to be done surrounding the concept of “intent” as he was using it.

    It’s possible that such a “development” is not related to understandings of Nature or sex specifically at all, but rather to the relation of “intention” to the morality of an act.

    Specifically, the Church never stopped insisting on an ordering towards procreation being part of the moral logic of sex acts. However, it came to be located in the “object” or form of the act, not the intention or consequences.

    But maybe such a nuance is not unique to sex at all. For example, look at the reverse situation regarding, say, military service. Early Christian officialdom often seemed to be absolutely pacifist, in spite of having Christians (even martyred Saints) in the legions. There seemed to be a simplistic idea that killing made one “unclean” morally regardless of intent. Later as intent and object came to be distinguished, it was seen that one could kill defensively as long as your intent was something like “to disable an aggressor” rather than to kill, even if death was (even inevitably) a result of the disabling.

    The transition of nuance between “you must actively intend procreation!” to “you shouldn’t do anything actively to frustrate it!” may represent just this general trend away from a simplistic collapsing of intent and object within an act’s moral structure, because it starts to become very hard, upon consideration, to refer every act to a final end in an immediate fashion like that.

    Imagine if every time we ate it had to be part of some deliberate plan or intent to regulate our nutrition! Obviously, human nature doesn’t work that way. Yes, Reason must reign supreme, but there’s a reason we have natural hunger as a lower appetite. It might be imbalanced, but I think very quickly the Church realized that fallen concupiscence did not lead to absolute depravity, and that desire was not to simply be totally ignored in favor of purely Rational motives and intentions, because it’s silly to require that, with each step I take, I be actively intending “I am walking to church!” when generally rightly ordered desire has an “inertia” that lets us put things like that on “autopilot.”

    Clement’s too-strict standard may just represent sloppy analysis of the role of “intent” within moral acts generally. The Church later put a lot less emphasis on “good intentions” and a lot more on “right order.”

    • Hebridean permalink
      July 9, 2013 2:48 pm

      To clarify my analogy further: the shift would be from “When acting in defense, you must actively intend to not kill the aggressor” to merely “you must not actively intend to kill the aggressor.”

      The difference may be subtle, but it’s also huge. In the first case, the required “intent to not-kill” means that a burden is placed on you to try to actively ensure that the aggressor survives.

      In the latter case, there is no such burden; you can’t be deliberately TRYing to kill the aggressor, specifically willing his death, but you also don’t have to worry if something lethal does happen in the course of your attempt to disable, in fact if necessary you can even do disabling acts that you foresee will certainly kill.

      There seemed to be a more general shift in Christian morality, pretty early on, in this regard, given the impossibility of actively willing all goods to be actualized at all times (as opposed to merely a requirement to not actively will AGAINST any goods).

    • July 10, 2013 7:12 am

      Worth investigating, I ‘d say.

  4. Ronald King permalink
    July 9, 2013 1:40 pm

    I believe that the “right order” of “good intentions” begins with the acceptance of the passionate desire to have sex with my mate for the pure joy of it. If that is not understood and accepted then the contamination of the relationship begins.

    • Ulalia permalink
      July 9, 2013 2:44 pm

      “for the pure joy of it”

      Catholic moral theology considers this concept circular and self-enclosed. Things are desirable/enjoyable for a reason. Something is not desirable “just because.” This is a causal circle.

      Why is bumping genitals (to be frank) desirable/enjoyable to human beings? Because that’s how humans reproduce.

      That’s not to say there is an obligation to make sure reproduction takes place each time. Reproduction is what makes sex desirable, yes, but it makes sex desirable, period. Even in contexts where it doesn’t actually take place, because human desire cannot be “fine tuned” to the external circumstances like that; an instinct has to be generic, otherwise it wouldn’t be an instinct.

      It is internally coherent for a man to desire unimpeded sex with his wife. The exchange is quite clear: Nature gives pleasure to incentivize reproduction.

      To use some active intervention or distortion of the natural form to take the pleasure without reproduction is to “steal” from Nature, as it were; there is a reason Dante put the sodomites in the same circle of Hell as the usurers.

      On the other hand, taking advantage of infertile times is not “stealing” because it is Nature too which gives infertility; there is a big difference between stealing a lemon and taking one when it is “buy one get one free,” because in the latter case the shop-keeper is willingly giving the lemons away. A shop-keeper is free to give away products for free, even apart from his general purpose of making a profit, because maybe he feels like occasional free giveaways, though not specifically generating a profit, contribute to a better overall customer relationship that in the end serves his purpose.

      A man having regular sex on an infertile day can easily explain explain his choice with internal coherence: “Sex feels good and bonds me with my spouse.” “Why does it feel good?” “Well, because of reproduction, I suppose. Nature wants us to reproduce, so it gives us pleasure for having sex.” “Ah, but today, at least, you know your wife is infertile, you won’t reproduce.” But he can answer: “Well, that’s not really our problem to worry about. We didn’t cause the infertility today. You’d have to ask Nature about that. We’re just taking Nature up on its own offer.” And, of course, like the shop-keeper, Nature is free to give away it’s pleasures “for free” if it wants (to serve its more general ends) sometimes, and so there is no conflict of ends in the individual taking advantage of it.

      On the other hand, a man wearing a condom has some “explaining” to do. “Can you explain to me, sir, why you’re doing what you’re doing?” “Well, I’m having sex with my wife, it feels good.” “Why?” “Well, because of reproduction, I suppose.” “Hm. But what is the addition of this piece of rubber? Why that?” “Well, because I don’t actually want to risk impregnating her, so I’m going to go through the motions but not actually deposit my semen.” “But then why is going through those motions desirable?” “Well, because rubbing the genitals still feels good.” “But why?” “Well, again, I suppose because Nature wants to encourage us to reproduce.” “But you’re deliberately doing something to NOT reproduce. You’re pulling the whole foundation out from under the desire.” “Heh heh heh, yeah. Clever ain’t I? I’m tricking ol’ Nature, I guess you could say.” But this introduces a very clear conflict between the individual and his nature, between his specific End and the universal End.

      • Ronald King permalink
        July 9, 2013 5:23 pm

        “Catholic moral theology considers this concept circular and self-enclosed” How is it circular and self-enclosed?
        “Why is bumping genitals (to be frank) desirable/enjoyable to human beings? Because that’s how humans reproduce”
        So, you don’t think it is more than that?
        ” Nature gives pleasure to incentivize reproduction.”
        There is also the reality of deeper bonding associated with pleasure. There is much more to it but my spouse of 38 years is calling for my assistance. We both get a great deal of pleasure from that but not quite as passionate as in other areas.

        • Ullalia permalink
          July 9, 2013 9:33 pm

          Well of course there is “more to it” than that, but a purpose or end can be foundational or essential.

          Take the shop-keeper who sometimes gives stuff away for free as part of a deal. He is not serving the end of profit in the specific case, but overall it serves his general end of building up a business and keeping customers and attracting people to the store, which in the end makes more profit.

          Likewise, as I said, Nature has a lot of “free” sex built in, doesn’t it? During pregnancy and breastfeeding, certainly, for obvious reasons (to space births), but also for three weeks a month, at least. Yet humans do not go into heat and develop desire only when fertile. The reason Nature seems to have built a lot of infertility into the whole system naturally is because it doesn’t only want to produce offspring, but for that offspring to survive and be raised and taken care of by its parents. The bonding aspect of sex certainly serves that end.

          Nevertheless, we must trust that there is a finely tuned balance in the “ecology of desire” associated with sex. The “ratio” of sex to successful procreation is “built into” this system. Nature knows what it is doing. We can think of it as “ecology,” or we can think of it as “economy,” either way there is no doubt that allowance for contraception drastically changes the ecology of the whole system (in a way avoidance by NFP doesn’t exactly because NFP works by requiring quite a bit of abstinence).

          Even from a purely materialist economic argument that has no particular ethics other than the efficiency of distribution, economists would tell you there is a different between taking a free lemon on the three days a month that the shop-keeper decides to give them away free, and stealing one on any day you please. You might say it’s equivalent, in either case you’re getting a free lemon and the shop-keeper loses one. But the economic fact is that even without any “moral” opposition to theft or legalistic notions, there is an information deficiency if you choose to take a lemon unilaterally. The shop-keeper (or, at least, shop-keepers collectively) is a rational actor who has enough information from his business to decide how many days a month he can afford to give free lemons and how to calibrate that to maximize the positive effect on his business. His calculation ALREADY takes into account the fact that some people will anticipate his free-giveaways and WAIT until such a day to get their lemons.

          Nature is designed to allow only so much sex without a baby. Not necessarily for each individual (some individuals are entirely infertile, after all) but for the species as a whole. Nature’s “calculations” are ALREADY calibrated in such a way as to take into account the potential to use knowledge of the system strategically. But contraception clearly throws this whole balance of desire entirely out of whack, this whole economy of desire in society, in a similar manner to how debasing currency or counterfeiting can affect the economy of material goods.

      • July 9, 2013 5:49 pm

        I’m not interested in getting into a long, complex, and ultimately frustrating exchange like we have in the past, but I do have to take issue specifically with this:

        Things are desirable/enjoyable for a reason. Something is not desirable “just because.”

        If I wake up feeling well-rested and better than average on a given day, walk outside, feel that the temperature is just right, and walk through the woods hearing as the birds sing, the sky is blue, the flowers are in bloom, and a notice that it’s a wonderful, beautiful day, I do, in fact, take pleasure in it just because.

        For that matter, if I’m hungry and bite into a really good apple, while the goal of eating is nutrition, the actual pleasure and enjoyment is in the experience, not in the telos. Yes, the pleasure is wired into us so we will eat; but the telos is not intrinsic to the pleasure as such. If I’m on a diet, I may have to eat nutritional food that is not tasty. I might decide to go out and get an ice cream on the aforementioned gorgeous day, not because I’m ravenously hungry, but just as a treat. I may eat a diet food that tastes good but does not provide calories. In short, few would say that the pleasure of eating must be always connected to the telos of food, or that there is some sin involved when the intelligible goal of eating is frustrated from reaching its full telos. One could assert that, as the Church does regarding sex; but assertion doesn’t make something ipso facto so.

        This, by the way, is why I say (and am chided for saying) that the Church’s teaching is inconsistent. To assert something is one thing; but the Church isn’t content in asserting that the act and its telos must always mesh, but tries to argue that it is clearly evident to reason. If they’d stop with the assertion, it’d be OK–but to claim as evident something that isn’t just doesn’t cut it.

        • Ullalia permalink
          July 9, 2013 10:38 pm

          “If I wake up feeling well-rested and better than average on a given day, walk outside, feel that the temperature is just right, and walk through the woods hearing as the birds sing, the sky is blue, the flowers are in bloom, and a notice that it’s a wonderful, beautiful day, I do, in fact, take pleasure in it just because.”

          There are health-related reasons we enjoy being well-rested and certain ranges of temperatures.

          And noticing beauty is part of the brain’s general appreciation of patterns which is the very core of Reason itself!

          C’mon, this is easy.

          “For that matter, if I’m hungry and bite into a really good apple, while the goal of eating is nutrition, the actual pleasure and enjoyment is in the experience, not in the telos. Yes, the pleasure is wired into us so we will eat; but the telos is not intrinsic to the pleasure as such.”

          Well, right. That’s why we speak of a higher and lower appetite. The whole “problem” with fallen concupiscence, the whole reason that the concept of “fallen” is possible is because pleasure is in experience even though the reason is in Reason, which allows for an opposition or conflict between the two.

          “In short, few would say that the pleasure of eating must be always connected to the telos of food, or that there is some sin involved when the intelligible goal of eating is frustrated from reaching its full telos. One could assert that, as the Church does regarding sex; but assertion doesn’t make something ipso facto so.”

          The Catholic Encyclopedia article on gluttony does say: “It is incontrovertible that to eat or drink for the mere pleasure of the experience, and for that exclusively, is likewise to commit the sin of gluttony. Such a temper of soul is equivalently the direct and positive shutting out of that reference to our last end which must be found, at least implicitly, in all our actions. At the same time it must be noted that there is no obligation to formerly and explicitly have before one’s mind a motive which will immediately relate our actions to God. It is enough that such an intention should be implied in the apprehension of the thing as lawful with a consequent virtual submission to Almighty God.”

          This is a better framing of this whole moral framework (which is, the Christian moral framework) than I could myself give.

          “To assert something is one thing; but the Church isn’t content in asserting that the act and its telos must always mesh, but tries to argue that it is clearly evident to reason. If they’d stop with the assertion, it’d be OK–but to claim as evident something that isn’t just doesn’t cut it.”

          It doesn’t assert that it’s “clearly evident.” It asserts that it is derivable through a process of natural reason that doesn’t require any particular Revelation, starting from axioms which don’t assert anything supernatural.

          But She never said it was “clear.” Indeed, the opposite is a De Fide dogma, according to Ott’s list: “In the state of fallen nature it is morally impossible for man without Supernatural Revelation, to know easily, with absolute certainty and without admixture of error, all religious and moral truths of the natural order. (De fide.)”

          Starting from certain non-controversial and non-supernatural axioms, a rational argument can be made for believing that human fulfillment and moral goodness consists in having Reason triumph always in the conflict between the upper and lower appetites, and in having the inner logic of choices be coherent in the way I’ve described. It’s not an airtight syllogism, but then philosophy rarely is.

        • July 10, 2013 3:51 pm

          At the same time it must be noted that there is no obligation to formerly and explicitly have before one’s mind a motive which will immediately relate our actions to God. It is enough that such an intention should be implied in the apprehension of the thing as lawful with a consequent virtual submission to Almighty God.”

          I’m not sure I agree with this. One could program a computer or robot so that it tried to attain a certain temperature, sought an electric outlet to recharge itself, etc., and could even program it to make moaning sounds if it got “hungry” or “uncomfortable”, or “happy” sounds if it got to recharge. However, it would be a mere simulacrum–it would have no qualia. Likewise, God didn’t have to make us capable of pleasure–He could have programmed us to meet our needs with no “feelings”. He was purely gratuitous in giving us qualia–subjective feelings–and while we should be broadly grateful to Him for existence, let along “all that is good”, I think it’s almost a dreary Puritanism that says that there must be at least an implicit acknowledgement of the “apprehension of the thing as lawful with a consequent virtual submission to Almighty God”.

          [The Church] asserts that [the necessity that the act and telos mesh] is derivable through a process of natural reason that doesn’t require any particular Revelation, starting from axioms which don’t assert anything supernatural.

          I disagree with this. No other system of natural reason actually ended up there. The Greeks came close, but didn’t go quite that far, and didn’t relate it to the One. In any case, I think one of the faults of Scholasticism is its excessive insistence on tying everything back to Reason in the technical sense it uses. Orthodox theologians were just as moral as Latins, and came to most of the same conclusions (not all); but they never did theology that way, nor did they have theories of telos and act based in inherent Reason that the West did. They turned out OK!

          BTW, WRT the comparison you did above comparing contraception to theft (!), then how is it that thwarting nature by using technology to enable people to destroy diseases like smallpox and to live longer than their ancestors did not “stealing” increased youthfulness and life rather than settling for what “nature” (read: God) gave us?

        • Ullalia permalink
          July 10, 2013 5:33 pm

          “However, it would be a mere simulacrum–it would have no qualia. Likewise, God didn’t have to make us capable of pleasure–He could have programmed us to meet our needs with no ‘feelings.’ He was purely gratuitous in giving us qualia–subjective feelings”

          Not really. When it comes to pleasure-motivation for our natural ends or needs this is part of having Free Will.

          If our actions were decided in a deterministic fashion like a robot rather than in the form of various incommensurable goods appealing to our will (and it can be argued, perhaps, that we are programmed that way for certain very basic things like breathing and other involuntary processes) then there would be no question of desire or choice at all!

          It almost seems like you’re saying here that we’re robots + qualia. But we’re not, because we ALSO have free will. It’s true: adding a qualitative pleasure to a robotic being who only had ONE possible route of action anyway, who had no choice but just a deterministic fatalism…would be, yes, gratuitous, because then the pleasure would have no causal role in that process, would be just an epiphenomenon.

          But beings with free will, who have “degrees of freedom” that are not simply deterministic…it does not make sense to view the quale of pleasure as something super-added after-the-fact like you’re saying, because it really does have a role and purpose as a causal factor in motivating one choice over another.

          Your theory of the gratuity of pleasure only makes sense if you assume pleasure has no causal role in determining choices. In deterministic beings, it would indeed be gratuitous because there is no need for an additional cause to explain their behavior which can be sufficiently explained by the deterministic law that governs it. But in a being with free will, it is not at all gratuitous, it has a clear causative/explanatory motivating purpose as a factor in motivating the choice.

          Humans are, as it were, “multileveled” beings. Consciousness is actually several super-imposed systems. The pleasure/pain system is one of them. But Reason is another. But this superimposition of networks is actually what makes us free because it means that several “branches of government” are in place with checks and balances over each other. The goal of human life is a successful integration; I would fully agree that a hierarchal vision that makes Reason simply a monarch…is not healthy. But this does still mean needing to synch the logical and the experiential systems when it comes to our will, our choices.

          “No other system of natural reason actually ended up there.”

          Nothing in the Church’s philosophy/theology regarding the place of Natural Reason suggests that they would!

          Indeed, just look at that dogma I quoted. The Church is not claiming that natural philosophy of this sort works like some sort of mathematical syllogism that all people living in the same universe will derive similarly.

          Indeed, the Church would expect to see a spectrum of natural philosophical systems and schools of reason, some coming closer to the Truth as She understands it, and others being farther away.

          The point is, nevertheless, that these various narratives are not simply incommensurable. The Church’s teaching on the unity of reason means that dialogue is possible between these various systems. It means that our truth can speak to theirs and debate with it even without appealing to the special trumping axioms of Revelation.

          It doesn’t mean that our position has some sort of self-evidence or ultimate geometric “proof” that definitively locks out all other positions. Indeed, if the history of philosophy has shown anything, it’s that the dialogue between various positions is endless.

          What it does mean, however, is that the Natural Law and Natural Theology are on the same “playing field” as those other systems, are ideas that one can grapple with on the same epistemological and hermeneutical level as them all, and not merely questions of supernatural faith and revelation (which is an entirely different epistemic mode of knowledge and authority).

          “BTW, WRT the comparison you did above comparing contraception to theft (!), then how is it that thwarting nature by using technology to enable people to destroy diseases like smallpox and to live longer than their ancestors did not ‘stealing’ increased youthfulness and life rather than settling for what ‘nature’ (read: God) gave us?”

          Oh come now. You know that’s not what natural law means by “nature” at all. Nature doesn’t mean “the law of the jungle” or “Mother Earth.” That’s like the silly arguments that say, “Air conditioning isn’t natural, so gay sex must be okay too!” We’re talking about nature in the sense of “HUMAN nature” here. Smallpox isn’t part of human nature. Disease is a LIMITATION of the full-blossoming of human nature, not a feature. Periodic infertility, however, is a feature not a flaw, because it is built-in. However, I would argue that attempts in this world to achieve downright biological IMMORTALITY would indeed be unnatural. And I think we can all imagine the potentially dystopian vision of a world of literal immortality.

        • July 10, 2013 6:19 pm

          But beings with free will, who have “degrees of freedom” that are not simply deterministic…it does not make sense to view the quale of pleasure as something super-added after-the-fact….

          Sure it does. Chimps have the same motivating factors as we do, differ from us by less than 5% genetically, and (presumably) have no qualia. There seems to be nothing about sapience or free will that seems to require qualia, either. We could have been made such that we just “knew” we had to eat or sleep or defecate without feeling hungry, sleepy, or bloated, much like an alarm clock that beeps to tell us it’s time to take a medication without making us “feel” any way at all.

          [B]ecause [pleasure] really does have a role and purpose as a causal factor in motivating one choice over another.

          Arbitrarily. God could have made us sapient and given us free will without necessarily giving us feelings of pleasure and pain. He could have made us like Vulcans, if you will. I can’t see any logical reason that sapience and free will necessitate pleasures that have some “causal motivating factors”. It seems to me that pleasure is indeed a super-added gift that God gives us.

          I would fully agree that a hierarchal vision that makes Reason simply a monarch…is not healthy.

          My contention is that this is not a perversion of the system, but where it ultimately ends up by its own internal logic–which is the problem.

        • Ullalia permalink
          July 10, 2013 6:56 pm

          “Sure it does. Chimps have the same motivating factors as we do, differ from us by less than 5% genetically, and (presumably) have no qualia.”

          No, chimps DON’T have the same motivating factors we do, because Chimps don’t have Reason like we do. Chimps can’t discuss teleology! Their behavior is deterministic, they do not have free will. Their behavior may result from “weighing” various options, but the weighing is entirely deterministic, it’s simply whichever option “weighs the most.” This is not Free Will.

          “There seems to be nothing about sapience or free will that seems to require qualia, either. We could have been made such that we just ‘knew’ we had to eat or sleep or defecate without feeling hungry, sleepy, or bloated, much like an alarm clock that beeps to tell us it’s time to take a medication without making us ‘feel’ any way at all.”

          An alarm clock creates a feeling of urgency or obligation, usually, depending on how invested we are in it. We feel guilty or worried if we don’t take the pill. etc.

          “God could have made us sapient and given us free will without necessarily giving us feelings of pleasure and pain.”

          No that makes no sense. All pleasure or pain is, ultimately, are a perception that some experience is good or bad, desirable or not. We couldn’t have free will or subjectivity in any sense without that basic evaluative function.

        • July 10, 2013 8:14 pm

          My answer is at the bottom for space.

  5. July 10, 2013 12:12 am

    You’re on shaky ground citing Clement of Alexandria as a representative of Church teaching. On grounds of suspected heresy, his cult has been suppressed within both the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy.

    • July 10, 2013 7:06 am

      First, I didn’t cite Clement as a representative of “Church teaching,” but as an example of early Christian thought. Second, as far as I know, but please correct me if I am wrong, his views on sex were not counted among his alleged heresies.

    • Dante Aligheri permalink
      July 10, 2013 5:11 pm

      I might suggest that whether or not Clement has been officially suppressed he had quite a bit of clout in Early Christianity. And, I’m not entirely certain that “suppressing” his cult means he is no longer a saint. Still, I’m not expert. Can anyone more knowledgeable than I about these things explain that?

  6. Ronald King permalink
    July 10, 2013 8:23 am

    “But She never said it was “clear.” Indeed, the opposite is a De Fide dogma, according to Ott’s list: “In the state of fallen nature it is morally impossible for man without Supernatural Revelation, to know easily, with absolute certainty and without admixture of error, all religious and moral truths of the natural order. (De fide.)”
    Would it also be possible for the Church to be mistaken about its understanding of human sexuality based on the above statement? It seems that the Church teaches in the abstract what it has not experienced directly in reality in the area of sexuality.

    • Ullalia permalink
      July 10, 2013 12:21 pm

      No. The dogma only means that even truths of the natural order (that is to say, accessible to natural reason without Revelation) are nevertheless, for fallen man, morally impossible to know with certainty or without admixture of error…without the “correcting” aid of supernatural revelation. The Church, however, does have such aid. Her claims about, say, the natural law or the natural knowability of God from Reason…are all, ultimately, Revealed too. The point is just that they are accessible without supernatural faith as well. That doctrine is discussing the relation of revelation and reason, not introducing any uncertainty into the Church’s teachings.

  7. July 10, 2013 10:43 am

    Poor St. Clement. You take a sentence out of context and doom him to being accused of lacking in fun.

    The Church’s teaching has not changed, not even in the papal pronouncements you “cite.”

    It is still the same, because human nature and God’s plan for mankind is the same: Marriage is for the sake of procreation, and the unity of marriage safeguards the family and is a vocation for the two, husband and wife. This vocation is located precisely in Genesis at the creation of Man and Woman — it’s written in their nature.

    The whole of marriage “intends” procreation. If you think St. Clement would deny what, for instance, Casti Connubii and Humanae Vitae teach, that God intends pleasure in intercourse and also honors marriages where procreation isn’t possible, you are misrepresenting him.

    I wish people would just read the Church’s teachings, rather than impute their own interpretations.

    • July 10, 2013 11:31 am

      I quote him in context, actually. He wrote explicitly, in the work from which I quote, that the old cannot marry because they cannot procreate. He also forbid sex when the wife was pregnant, an act that Augustine looked down on as well. If you don’t believe me, go read the Marriage in the Early Church book to which I link in the post. You’ll note that the history of Christian thought on the meaning of sex and marriage is pretty complex, full of conflicting understandings and movements. Again, as I wrote in the thread above, I’m not quoting these men as representative of official Church teaching. I’m looking at a snapshot of the development of Christian thought related to sex and nature, a history I find interesting in its own right, whatever its relation to the current formulation of doctrine on these matters (and it is related–the official teaching didn’t just drop from the sky).

      By the way, Rome no longer recognizes Clement as a saint.

      • July 10, 2013 12:21 pm

        Thank you. I wish people would stop imputing their own interpretations, or modern interpretations, into the writings of the ancients.

        I would also like to add that, if that quote had come from Martin Luther, we would not have heard a peep about the context.

  8. trellis smith permalink
    July 10, 2013 2:48 pm

    Although I reject Clement’s understandings I actually admire his coherency. Let’s face it Church teachings regarding sex simply have for the most part missed the point and have little of value to impart and in fact could be dangerous to your health and the health of the world. Time to move on nothing to see here.

    • Ullalia permalink
      July 10, 2013 4:07 pm

      And you can say church teachings on usury missed the point too, but other better-informed folk not so beholden to the modern social order will rightly point out that the neglect of that condemnation in the past two centuries is behind the creation of the exploitative economic order and dysfunctional system of debt-slavery we have today. Stealing one item may not affect anyone or be a “big deal,” but stealing absolutely cannot be admitted as a structural feature of any functioning economy. Same thing with usury and contraception regarding the relation of individual to collective. What may seem minor to the individual has collective effects on the whole balance of the system, the whole ecology of desire in the great “computer” which is human civilization.

      • trellis smith permalink
        July 10, 2013 11:56 pm

        I am sure a butterfly effect is operative but neither you nor the church has the competence for understanding such a far reaching ecology. In fact of what we do know requires an abundance of caution that would advocate contraception. Unrestricted births in fact are demonstravtively the more harmful. False equations and analogies do not persuade.

        As to usury my past posts advocate an exploration of social credit.

        • EconomistDemographer permalink
          July 12, 2013 10:28 am

          Um. Two words: demographic collapse.

          The best solution to the threat of “overpopulation” and reaching a stabilized 2.1 replacement rate (in countries that need such a stable age structure; developing economies tend to need a more “pyramidal” one) is delaying the age of marriage, not contraception within marriage. The latter (or, rather, the fact of both things combined) is leading to demographic collapse where it has been practiced.

          Of course, you might say, those delaying marriage will inevitably fornicate rather than abstain and use contraception while doing so. Maybe. But whether or not theyre doing that has less of a demographic effect obviously. It has other social and spiritual effects on people like on their ability to commit successfully, as well as the inevitable failure of contraception and thus abortion and a higher rate of illegitimacy (which is known to have real structural social effects).

          Average age of marriage tends to be determined by economic factors which correctly calibrate things so that the fewer kids an economy needs, the longer education and attaining career-stability (and thus the readiness to marry) take. This is even probably true with respect to each “class” within the economy; economic readiness for marriage will happen younger in those classes/job-roles that need more people, and those classes will (or should, without contraception) have more children then to fill up their ranks until the correct proportions or equilibrium is reached.

    • July 11, 2013 9:56 am

      You are right: Christ and the “Jesus Movement” weren’t concerned with sex, like we are; it simply didn’t matter to them, because they believed they were facing the Apocalyptic Event. We are still facing that “event,” in fact, and because of the need for human solidarity vis-a-vis the terrible doom that is staring us in the face–an ecological, economic and social doom–sex really shouldn’t matter that much to us, either. We must learn to love one another and to accept, unquestioningly every variety of human love–and there’s an easy way to determine if some variant of human love meets the Gospel’s qualification: Can the lust that’s there at the beginning grow into self-sacrificial love, and, from there, be transformed into enormous compassion (agape love) for the living world? it seems to me that ALL kinds of human love that meet that standard would be approved by the Son of God.

      • trellis smith permalink
        July 11, 2013 9:29 pm

        @dismasdolben: In all things we need no more ethical guidance than the summary of the law and the golden rule so I’m with you on that. i do not parse love so much as integrate its manifestations but the distinctions you cite are certainly valid and can be useful. They are all streams into the same ocean.
        Our apocalypse must be disheartening to the Father, as driven it is by our stupidity and non understanding attested to by Christ who begs the Father to forgive Still my faith can only propel me to the rational and useful solutions that are our obligations to seek out. Such faith is a peeling of an onion that gives up but questions
        Sometimes these philosophical and theological ramblings here and elsewhere serve only a logic within themselves and are for really no other purpose. Only a fool would take them to heart. Voltaire humorously recounts that a man entering a forest guided only by the light of a candle, encounters another man who tells him to blow it out so that he may better see the way, That man is a theologian,

  9. July 10, 2013 4:45 pm

    What I find more intriguing is to consider what St. Augustine would have thought of IVF. He famously said that any rational man would rejoice to find a way to procreate without having to engage in sexual intercourse. I’m not saying he would have accepted IVF, but I think he would have found it very tempting. Other Early Church Fathers, especially those who felt that sexual intercourse was a consequence of the Fall, might well have been tempted by it as well.

    • Ullalia permalink
      July 10, 2013 5:43 pm

      I doubt it. For one, because it requires masturbation, generally. Two, because surely, even if they couldn’t understand IVF specifically, they did understand that a man could ejaculate outside the vagina and then have the semen inserted mechanically some other way; IVF adds nothing to regular old artificial insemination in this regard and if they didn’t consider the turkey-baster an acceptable alternative to actual intercourse, why would they consider IVF any better? Three, because they would have immediately had “playing God” concerns.

      I assume what Augustine was talking about was not actually technologically achieving this, but something like Christ’s virginal conception or the legend of seed from Joachim simply flying into Anne in a ball of light near the Temple Gate for the Virgin Mary’s conception.

      • Commoner permalink
        July 10, 2013 8:22 pm

        The flying seed theory is damn funny, and that’s all there is to it. How that is supposed to be preferable to a turkey baster is beyond me.

        I confess I will never understand all the religious angst about sex within marriage. There is nobody who could convince me that making love with my husband is wrong, or distasteful, or somehow an unfortunate concession to imperfection.

        The TOB sex cult, on the other hand, is downright creepy. While I find physical intimacy with my husband very spiritual, I have no need to understand God in terms of sexual activity.

        Sometimes I really wonder if there is such a thing as normal when it comes to just being married, enjoying lovemaking, and trying to raise a family Catholic. I know a lot of orthodox Catholics, but very few of them seem normal when it comes to sex and marriage. They certainly don’t have marriages or family lives that most would envy.

        I do like honesty about what the Church has actually taught over the centuries. All the twisting into pretzels to try to pretend otherwise is painful to watch.

        • July 10, 2013 9:45 pm

          “The flying seed theory is damn funny, and that’s all there is to it. How that is supposed to be preferable to a turkey baster is beyond me.”

          Good question.

          “The TOB sex cult, on the other hand, is downright creepy. While I find physical intimacy with my husband very spiritual, I have no need to understand God in terms of sexual activity.”

          Agreed! I remember running into a post online titled, “The orgasmic yes of the Catholic faith.” Gag. I’ve seen other posters online argue that only men should serve as acolytes because the altar rail represents the hymen and the sanctuary represents the female sexual organs. Creepy! Beyond creepy! Not to mention it leads to some VERY disturbing conclusions…

          “I confess I will never understand all the religious angst about sex within marriage. There is nobody who could convince me that making love with my husband is wrong, or distasteful, or somehow an unfortunate concession to imperfection.

          Sometimes I really wonder if there is such a thing as normal when it comes to just being married, enjoying lovemaking, and trying to raise a family Catholic. I know a lot of orthodox Catholics, but very few of them seem normal when it comes to sex and marriage. They certainly don’t have marriages or family lives that most would envy.”

          I think part of the problem is that, since our culture is no longer culturally Christian, we’re stuck with the wackos. There are a lot of people who have hangups about sex and marriage, and let’s face it, lots of men who hate women. They’re also angry about the way that the culture is going, both socially and economically. They’re attracted to the writings of saints and theologians that reinforce these hangups and these concerns, as well as their hatred of women. Not to mention Greek philosophers like Aristotle. They then use it to construct their own mini-brand of Catholicism, or sub religion, just as the TOB cult group does. They also seem to be highly present online. (My favorite is the guy on Vox Nova who claimed that women represent evil in the universe.)

          Basically, I think that there are unbalanced people who are looking for an ideology to tell them that their ideas are correct. For some people its Fascism. For others, it’s the writings of certain saints, theologians, and philosophers. If we had at least a cultural veneer in our society, then the normal people would also attend church, and we could see normal people with normal marriages and normal sex lives, not because of Catholic teaching, but simply because they are normal people.

          “I do like honesty about what the Church has actually taught over the centuries. All the twisting into pretzels to try to pretend otherwise is painful to watch.”

          Also very much appreciated. It is so dishonest to do otherwise. I saw someone on First Things reviewing the book, “From Sacrament to Contract” which describes the development of marriage in Western Europe. He claimed that the best way to understand the writings of the Early Church Fathers and medieval theologians such as St. Thomas Aquinas was to read Arcanum, Casti Connubii, the documents of Vatican II, etc. That is no different than saying, “The best way to understand how the ancient Greeks understood democratic government is to read The Federalist Papers and the United States Constitution.”

          Lastly, Commoner, please consider blogging. I would read it religiously, hahaha.

        • dismasdolben permalink
          July 12, 2013 8:34 am

          I second the proposal that Commoner should blog. Vox Nova is good for my solidarity with my Catholic brothers and sisters who are reasonably intelligent, but I’d sure like some additional fare.

        • Commoner permalink
          July 12, 2013 4:42 pm

          You are too kind, and while I admit I enjoy the flattery, I am really not all that and a bag of chips (thus my moniker). I just have the somewhat unique experience of having been raised in a sort of first-wave resistance to the changes brought about by VII, and I’ve lived around “orthodox” Catholics all my life, so I have some street cred.

          Quite frankly, I don’t have the stomach for running my own blog in the Catholic blogosphere, a place known to be quite vicious fairly frequently. But I do appreciate those who do, and I am certainly grateful for the chance to occasionally share my experiences, as it does sometimes seem that people tend to glorify all these fresh young Catholics coming from the same kinds of places I came from.

          20-30 years later, the glory is all gone, and the facade is largely unmasked. It’s pretty ugly, quite frankly.

        • July 13, 2013 8:07 pm

          I’m not at all to hear you’re reluctant to blog. The pressures of the “orthodox” Catholic community (or the evangelical Christian community) is simply tremendous. The best example of this is actually from Simcha, when she posted about how she was giving up homeschooling. Many of the women who posted on her blog talked about being pushed to the point of total exhaustion and nervous breakdowns. Yet, they felt completely isolated from, and scorned by, their communities. The crazy thing is, there is no commandment that says, “Thou shalt homeschool thy children!” Nothing in the Bible or the Catechism that says its a sin to put children in public schools or Catholic schools.

          Still, think about it. Maybe some day…

  10. Mark S. permalink
    July 10, 2013 5:07 pm

    Ulalia, you write, “Why is bumping genitals (to be frank) desirable/enjoyable to human beings? Because that’s how humans reproduce.”

    I wonder where we might be able to locate the erotic in this way of thinking of sex. A strictly teleological sexuality doesn’t seem to have much room for eros…though maybe I’m wrong… Perhaps it does smuggle eros in through the (ahem) back door via the looming presence of the teleological End.

    I’m thinking of Bataille here–the specter of death haunts every act of procreative sex because procreation itself represents an attempt to continue what is discontinuous–we procreate because we want a little piece of us to live on even though we know we’re all going to die. But when we become conscious of the specter of the End in the midst of our lovemaking, we can begin to see the interplay between life, death and pleasure more clearly. In the petit mort, we can experience a blissful de-personalizing (or perhaps trans-personalizing) oblivion in which our limits as mortal creatures, the boundaries between us and other, life and death, are vividly made present to us, only to be blurred. Consequently, sex assumes a true sublimity which, in the words of Bacon (the painter), returns us more violently to life.

    But in this way of looking at things, it isn’t reproduction per se that constitutes the enjoyment of sex–it’s the blurring of the boundaries between self and other, between life and death and pleasure. Perhaps the better word here is “interpenetration,” not blurring–identities and realities are interpenetrated in the sexual act. This boundary-breaking (might we even say transgressive?) aspect to sex is what constitutes its erotic potential

    However, eroticism is not concerned with teleological ends, procreative or otherwise–it’s characterized more by a gratuitous exuberance. Eroticism is to procreation what poetry is to language: gratuitous, beautiful and useless.

    Could it be said that critiques of non-procreative sex amount to rejections of the erotic content of sex in favor of its biological utility exclusively? Isn’t a rejection of non-procreative sex as immoral a rejection of the comparatively useless erotic? I think it is possible to see a rejection of non-procreative sex as part of a larger political concern which is fundamentally anti-erotic and also anti-mystical in that both anti-eroticism and anti-mysticism eschew inconveniently blurred boundaries. A politics of the rigid boundary, the rigid sexual role, the rigid biological telos seems to me so ironically rigidly phallo-centric and, ultimately, a bit chauvinistic when it’s not blatantly idolatrous.

    Anyway…

    (By the by re: usury and sodomy–money was seen as inherently sterile. Interest was looked at as an unnatural means of begetting money because money should not be able to procreate–if it ever did procreate, it would necessarily be through unnatural means given the inherent sterility of money. There was no reference to an obscure notion of theft.)

    Cheers,
    -M

    • July 10, 2013 6:53 pm

      Well said, Mark. Excellent.

      Also re usury. It is true that the Church banned all usury; and that it banned non-procreative sex. It also taught with fair consistency that anyone who is not baptized with water and not explicitly a member of the visible Catholic Church is doomed to hell. Examples could be multiplied, but the point is that there are some teachings that even the pre-Vatican II Church has backed away from (e.g. the strict interpretation of extra ecclesiam), others that it’s re-interpreted (e.g. deciding that sex in the infertile period is OK after all while still banning contraception); and ditching others outright (e.g. usury).

      Now if one is totally consistent, one has to do one of two things. One possibility is that one could say what sedevacantist groups say, that is, that the Church has lapsed into heresy. For those of us who don’t believe the entire Church can do so, that’s not an option. Another possibility, which some conservative Catholics embrace, is to argue that the Church didn’t reeeeealy mean a lot of things it very clearly said in the past. This involves rather arduous mental gymnastics.

      I’d cut the Gordian knot by saying that the Church has been right on some things and (wrongly) changed its corporate mind and is now wrong; wrong on some things in the past and has changed its mind and is now right; and that with some issues it’s unclear. I think such a view could be defended without denying a certain, limited infallibility, but that would be far beyond the capability of a combox.

    • July 10, 2013 8:10 pm

      It’s best not to scapegoat the Puritans.

    • dismasdolben permalink
      July 11, 2013 10:00 am

      This is as sublime a response–and as truly spiritual a one–as I could possible imagine, to the Catholic Christian fundamentalists regarding their legalistic sexual morality. It’s so beautiful I wish I had composed it! Congratulations!

    • Ronald King permalink
      July 12, 2013 6:05 pm

      Mark, Beautifully stated. You gave language to my instincts.

  11. Ullalia permalink
    July 10, 2013 6:21 pm

    “I wonder where we might be able to locate the erotic in this way of thinking of sex. A strictly teleological sexuality doesn’t seem to have much room for eros…though maybe I’m wrong… Perhaps it does smuggle eros in through the (ahem) back door via the looming presence of the teleological End.”

    I don’t think this model says anything about eros one way or the other. Eros is part of the experiential side of desire, telos is part of the Rational side. The two are not necessarily in conflict. Indeed, the whole point of the Natural Law view of things is simply to make sure that the two factors are integrated and NOT in conflict. Indeed, doesn’t Aquinas say that sex would have involved MORE sensual pleasure in Paradise, not less?

    “I’m thinking of Bataille here–the specter of death haunts every act of procreative sex because procreation itself represents an attempt to continue what is discontinuous–we procreate because we want a little piece of us to live on even though we know we’re all going to die.”

    I think that’s really too-precious an explanation. Animals reproduce without any particular consciousness of death. Yes, symbolically, in poetry and art and various decadent schools of philosophy we can speak of the connection between sex and death, procreation and a sort of symbolic immortality. Even Plato does this. It makes for good symbolism.

    But to believe it actually has anything to do with real practical concrete human beings and their motives for having kids?? Rather silly. Maybe legacy-obsessed kings and narcissists and megalomaniacs view having kids and starting a family that way. Most people do not. Most people are much more straightforward and simplistic.

    The theory of human life that says what makes humans special is that we know we’re going to die is, I think, a lot of smoke and mirrors. We’d be different even if we were immortal just because our brains are at a totally different level than those of brute animals. Knowledge of our mortality is an effect, not a cause.

    “But in this way of looking at things, it isn’t reproduction per se that constitutes the enjoyment of sex–it’s the blurring of the boundaries between self and other, between life and death and pleasure. Perhaps the better word here is ‘interpenetration,’ not blurring–identities and realities are interpenetrated in the sexual act. This boundary-breaking (might we even say transgressive?) aspect to sex is what constitutes its erotic potential”

    Again, this all smacks of being too precious to me. The reason sex blurs personal boundaries is clearly because of reproduction! Because a man and woman are coming together in such a way as might create a third person. Because the desire we act for in sex is not necessarily for our own good primarily but for the good of the species as a whole (though in an integrated life, there would be no conflict between individual and collective in that regard). Sex that is deliberately sterilized, however, as much as it may simulate this conscious experience phenomenologically, in reality encloses sex as something entirely of the individual again, by taking away any of the risk of ACTUALLY acting “for the species” instead of the individual, which is to say any risk of procreation of a new human being.

    “However, eroticism is not concerned with teleological ends, procreative or otherwise–it’s characterized more by a gratuitous exuberance. Eroticism is to procreation what poetry is to language: gratuitous, beautiful and useless.”

    Maybe, maybe not. I think a good argument can be made that eroticism acts as a pretty powerful motivator for people to have sex. Nevertheless, even if it is an epiphenomenon, an “emergent” thing like poetry, a “side-effect” as it were, as you describe…that doesn’t say anything one way or another about whether it can be decoupled from the more foundational phenomenon.

    Poetry still fundamentally relies on a coupling of language with Meaning, which is to say Truth. Poetry is not merely euphony. It is not merely pleasant sounding syllables strung together. Indeed, the beauty of poetry, real poetry, relies not on a rejection of meaning in language, but on a radically “linguistic” and radically “communicative” turn. Good poetry is still radically “language” and good eroticism must still be radically “procreative.”

    Even as a “side-effect” or “emergent” pattern or phenomenon, it is still an effect or pattern which emerges FROM the original purpose or telos and cannot ever contradict it. Poetry emerges from the fact that language is designed to communicate, and indeed poetry does communicate even if it “more than communicates,” even if it’s communication involves a sort of superabundant overflow, a beauty in the very subtlety of the communication involved, a communication BETTER and MORE communicative for the fact that it involves not straightforward and verbose entirely logical and syntactical constructions, but exactly because it relies on simply evoking images and suggesting connections and calling up memories or shared experiences through clever juxtapositions and masterful emotional associations. But poetry still communicates! It’s still language!

    Indeed, a “poetry” that served to OBFUSCATE, that served to DISRUPT communication or to be a BARRIER to the transmission of Truth and meaning (as, say, we might accuse the propaganda of certain dystopian totalitarian regimes, both in real life and fiction of doing; see: Newspeak)…would not be poetry at all, as “beautiful” as some might experience it as (“Orgy Porgy, Ford and Fun…”)

    “Could it be said that critiques of non-procreative sex amount to rejections of the erotic content of sex in favor of its biological utility exclusively? Isn’t a rejection of non-procreative sex as immoral a rejection of the comparatively useless erotic? I think it is possible to see a rejection of non-procreative sex as part of a larger political concern which is fundamentally anti-erotic and also anti-mystical in that both anti-eroticism and anti-mysticism eschew inconveniently blurred boundaries. A politics of the rigid boundary, the rigid sexual role, the rigid biological telos seems to me so ironically rigidly phallo-centric and, ultimately, a bit chauvinistic when it’s not blatantly idolatrous.”

    Some of them, I’m sure. But the Catholic vision of sex is NOT the same as the Puritan. The Catholic moral vision is NOT utilitarianism.

    Puritans seemed to eschew most art except perhaps with a strict didactic purpose. Catholicism saw beauty as a valid end in itself and always has.

    HOWEVER, Catholicism would still not support a “beautiful lie,” as it were. A belief in beauty as an end in itself does not mean that Catholicism believed beauty could be uncoupled from Truth.

    The Church, of course, knows the difference between Fiction, on the one hand, and a Lie, on the other. It was Puritanical strains of Protestantism which came to finally embody the critique (always lurking in the more extremist strains of Christian thought) that fictional stories or plays amounted to Lying. But the Church obviously doesn’t believe that. Perhaps we might say that the Church would consider natural-but-infertile sex to be “Fiction” but contraceptive sex to be “A Lie.” The former is still The Truth even if it isn’t the Facts, whereas the latter is neither.

    I think you find the anti-mystical in sects such as Puritanism (or even, interestingly, various forms of Communism) that are also profoundly anti-erotic. But can Catholicism be accused of anti-mysticism or anti-eroticism? I don’t think so! Obviously one of the things that has drawn people even such as Wilde TO Catholicism is that it is profoundly mystical, aesthetic, erotic.

    Where I think you and others in this thread must be going wrong is in thinking that the Church’s sexual morality is somehow a great aberration, that it is something foreign to that whole system which somehow got inserted and survived but which is really, fundamentally, in contradiction to the inner logic of all the rest of the system which is profoundly mystical and erotic.

    But I don’t think that follows. I’d trust, after 2000 years, that the inconsistencies in the system would have worked themselves out. A utilitarian sexual morality makes perfect sense within Puritan protestantism, and indeed found a home there. But I think it is a non-explanation (and thus non-understanding) to say that Catholicism’s visions of chastity is somehow simply in contradiction with its eroticism rather than looking deeper to see how, in fact, those two things make perfect SENSE existing side-by-side with each other in the same system of thought.

    “By the by re: usury and sodomy–money was seen as inherently sterile. Interest was looked at as an unnatural means of begetting money because money should not be able to procreate–if it ever did procreate, it would necessarily be through unnatural means given the inherent sterility of money. There was no reference to an obscure notion of theft.”

    In Dante, maybe not, but I’m not sure any of the medievals REALLY understood very well why usury was wrong. That doesn’t mean their instincts weren’t correct! Indeed, I believe they were; usury is clearly an antisocial monetary model involving the privatization of something (credit) which is inherently social.

    So on the one hand I think the symbolic connection between an unnatural monetization of credit and an unnatural sexuality is true on a very basic intuitive level, but at the same time I am not defending the specific particulars of the analogies that various medievals may have used. Dante may have compared it to sodomy. I believe Chaucer juxtaposed it with prostitution. Both were “getting at” a deep sociological reality regarding the right-ordering of the symbolic mediation of value and desire (both economic and erotic) but without necessarily being terribly precise about it.

    • July 10, 2013 8:09 pm

      “I think that’s really too-precious an explanation. Animals reproduce without any particular consciousness of death. Yes, symbolically, in poetry and art and various decadent schools of philosophy we can speak of the connection between sex and death, procreation and a sort of symbolic immortality. Even Plato does this. It makes for good symbolism.

      But to believe it actually has anything to do with real practical concrete human beings and their motives for having kids?? Rather silly. Maybe legacy-obsessed kings and narcissists and megalomaniacs view having kids and starting a family that way. Most people do not. Most people are much more straightforward and simplistic.”

      I disagree. The first time in my life that I wanted a baby, really wanted a baby, was after my grandfather died.

      One of my acquaintances works in an urban school setting. She sees many young teenage men who have children. She told me, “The area is so dangerous, they all think they’re going to die before 20, so they might as well have children now.”

      I’m not saying it affects all people, but I do think that the realization of death does motivate some people to procreate.

    • July 10, 2013 9:02 pm

      Eros is part of the experiential side of desire, telos is part of the Rational side.

      There it is in a nutshell–I’m not sure I believe that desire has a rational side, at least not in the sense as analyzed by late Scholastic theologians. I think that type of analysis causes more problems than it solves; and the Church got along fine without it (the Orthodox Churches still do) long before it came around.

      The theory of human life that says what makes humans special is that we know we’re going to die is, I think, a lot of smoke and mirrors.

      Orthodox theology would disagree. From here (my emphasis):

      “In this perspective, “original sin” is understood not so much as a state of guilt inherited from Adam but as an unnatural condition of human life that ends in death. Mortality is what each man now inherits at his birth and this is what leads him to struggle for existence, to self-affirmation at the expense of others, and ultimately to subjection to the laws of animal life.

      • Moph permalink
        July 12, 2013 10:33 am

        Just to clarify, are you saying humans were not human before the fall?

        • July 13, 2013 9:02 pm

          According to traditional Western theology, Adam and Eve, before the fall, lacked concupiscence, had direct awareness of God, and (according to some) had many preternatural gifts. They were, if you will, superhuman. Thus, in a manner of speaking, and defining “human” as what we are now, they were not, in fact, human.

          The Orthodox draw a less sharp distinction between pre- and post-lapsarian humanity; they’d probably say that what “human” means was altered, but that humanity before the Fall and after were essentially the same.

          Personally, I think that modern anthropology has made the traditional view of the Fall untenable, and that it needs to be radically rethought. I’ve blogged rather extensively on that subject, in fact.

    • July 10, 2013 9:05 pm

      Poetry still fundamentally relies on a coupling of language with Meaning, which is to say Truth.

      “A poem should not mean/ But be.”–”Ars Poetica”, by Archibald MacLeish

    • elizabeth00 permalink
      July 11, 2013 3:56 am

      “I think that’s really too-precious an explanation. Animals reproduce without any particular consciousness of death. Yes, symbolically, in poetry and art and various decadent schools of philosophy we can speak of the connection between sex and death, procreation and a sort of symbolic immortality. Even Plato does this. It makes for good symbolism.
      But to believe it actually has anything to do with real practical concrete human beings and their motives for having kids?? Rather silly. Maybe legacy-obsessed kings and narcissists and megalomaniacs view having kids and starting a family that way. Most people do not. Most people are much more straightforward and simplistic.”

      Neither precious nor elitist but deeply woven into the ordinary human experience, at least Mikhail Bakhtin argues so in both ‘Rabelais and His World’ and ‘Problems of Dostoyevsky’s Poetics’. The nexus of life-death-boundary crossing-sexual pleasure-eating lies right at the root of Carnival, according to him. Nor, ultimately, did he find Carnival to be anti-Christian: not only did he show the connections that medievals made between the celebration of Carnival and the liturgy of the Church, but he also had a personal insight that is right up Mark S’s street: “Objective idealism maintains that the kingdom of God is outside us, and Tolstoy for example, insists that it is ‘within us’, but I think that the kingdom of God is between us, between me and you, between me and God, between me and nature: that’s where the kingdom of God is.” Bataille was onto something.

    • dismasdolben permalink
      July 11, 2013 10:05 am

      The theory of human life that says what makes humans special is that we know we’re going to die is, I think, a lot of smoke and mirrors.

      Almost all of classical and Romantic literature says that this is a wrong–even a philistine–point of view.

  12. July 10, 2013 8:50 pm

    Me: “God could have made us sapient and given us free will without necessarily giving us feelings of pleasure and pain.”

    Ullalia: No that makes no sense.

    Sure it does.

    All pleasure or pain is, ultimately, are a perception that some experience is good or bad, desirable or not.J

    Not necessarily. If I unexpectedly knock a heavy weight onto my foot, I experience pain before any evaluation of “good” or “bad”. Conversely, with a reflex arc, the body responds by moving to safety before the pain impulse even reaches the brain to be registered. Moreover, animals, though non-sapient, experience pain. I certainly don’t buy the Cartesian view of them as fuzzy automatons who merely seem to suffer. None of that even gets into pathological conditions such as phantom limb pain in which there is in fact no “bad” thing going on, but rather the perception system is disordered.

    We couldn’t have free will or subjectivity in any sense without that basic evaluative function.

    I don’t see why not. There are forms of brain damage in which the victim literally feels no pain; and even a normal human, in times of stress (e.g. war time) may not perceive pain, or may perceive it without “feeling” it during an adrenaline surge. It’s perfectly easy to imagine someone who was like that all the time, but not lacking in free will or subjectivity. Vulcans are fictional, obviously, but the fact that we can conceive of such a race shows that such a mode of being isn’t obviously absurd.

    • July 10, 2013 9:56 pm

      Round and round and round they go; where they stop, nobody knows.

      You’re both wrong. Pleasure and pain do not come from God. They are the result of evolution. My friend’s chocolate lab experiences obvious pleasure when she swims and fetches things. That’s not because God gave her pleasure as a gift or because God gave her pleasure to discern what is right. She experiences pleasure in these activities because nature and humans selected dogs who enjoyed these activities for survival and propagation.

      Nature also selected animals who can experience pain because they could recognize danger and protect themselves from injury. They were more likely to survive and breed. That’s why we experience pleasure and pain.

      • July 10, 2013 11:24 pm

        I’d agree with you to this extent, emma: God created the universe in such a way that life evolved and functionally pain, pleasure, and everything else (except, arguably, self-awareness) can be thought of as having developed according to brute physical and chemical processes.

        The Church claims that its arguments as to why contraception is wrong can stand on their own two feet even if one does not belief in God–in short, even an atheist who believes everything comes from evolution and Dawkins’s “blind watchmaker” can be convinced of the wrongness of contraception on the basis of purely secular arguments. I think this is bleedingly obviously patently wrong.

        Thus, while I believe that God created the universe to have the structure it has, I also believe that if one can’t argue for one’s moral position given an assumption of a materialistic cosmos, then, especially in a pluralist society, one has no argument at all.

  13. July 10, 2013 11:18 pm

    At the risk of making too many posts, I’d like to try to get back to Kyle’s original point, and to ry to do so as briefly as possible. Consider three outlooks on marital sex:

    A. Each and every sexual act must intend conception, period. Thus, no NPF, no marriage between people known to be infertile, no marriage for the elderly. This position is totally logical and consistent, and seems to have been the attitude not only of Clement but of many others in the early Church. However, since the Church has, tentatively beginning in the 19th Century, and enthusiastically now, backed sex in infertile periods—that is, sex in which conception is definitely not intended–A is a nonstarter.

    B. Not every sexual act must intend conception, and in fact it may be OK if no sexual act intends conception (as with an elderly couple or a couple known to be infertile). Thus, it is acceptable to have sex while preventing conception by any safe and effective means (for the purposes of discussion, I’m not going to argue which methods are “safe and effective”, and I’m going to assume that “safe” includes “non-abortifacient”). Thus, a couple could legitimately use NFP, condoms, the Pill, and so on. This position is totally logical and consistent; but since the Church condemns contraception, B, too, is a non-starter.

    C. Not every sexual act must intend conception, and people who may reasonably assume that no sex act will or can conceive (the elderly, the infertile) may still have sex in marriage. However, the only legitimate way for a fertile couple to prevent conception is by abstinence during the fertile period. C is the Church’s teaching.

    However, C has difficulty explaining why contraceptive sex is wrong, but sex between the infertile or elderly is not, or why NFP sex, assuming arguendo that it’s 100% effective is not. Arguments that God could allow sex between centenarians to be fertile, or arguments about what’s “natural” (despite the complexity of some NFP methods) are fatuous and rejected by serious supporters of the Church’s teaching. The only way C works is if one has a moral postulate, call it P, like this: “The only sex acts that are moral are those procreative in form (no contraception, condoms, barriers, chemicals, etc.) even if such sex acts are known with 100% certainty to be barren e.g. the elderly).” Such a postulate does make C work consistently and logically.

    The problem is this: The Church asserts that P derives from natural law. That is to say, P can be proved on the basis of reason alone, with no recourse to faith, religion, or even belief in God. Fine; but I have never once seen any purely non-religious argument that convinces me of the truth of P or gives me any reason to accept it. I would in fact go beyond this for a stronger statement: I don’t think such a totally secular argument is possible even in principle. For those who’d argue that, I point out the following: Many non-Christians and even non-believers accept the wrongness of capital punishment, torture and many other things the Church teaches. However, there is, to my knowledge, no large-scale non-Christian or secular movement against birth control that is also in favor of NFP. Some religions—e.g. Gaudiya Vaishnavism (the best-known form of which is the Hare Krishna movement) ban all sex that doesn’t intend procreation (like Clement again); but to my knowledge none take the Catholic view. One would think that if the Catholic perspective—viewpoint C with postulate P above—can really be argued without recourse to Catholic faith it would have at least a few takers—as many other elements of Catholic morality do—but it’s pretty much zip, nada, nichevo, nothing.

    I don’t doubt that Ullalia and those who make similar arguments are in perfectly good faith, sincerely believe that their arguments stand on their own without having to say “God told me so”, and that they may be better Catholics and Christians than I. What I do doubt is that their arguments for the Catholic position—which necessarily depend on P above—can work without an a priori commitment to Catholic teaching–in effect, “God (through the Church) told me so.” That is, I don’t see how their arguments can hold on a natural or secular basis, as the Church claims.

    This, IMO, is the source of the tension in the current Catholic teaching and it is what may, in the long run, will result in change development in this teaching.

    • dismasdolben permalink
      July 11, 2013 10:11 am

      Magnificently well-reasoned, sir. Thank you.

    • Moph permalink
      July 12, 2013 11:02 am

      As I understand, natural law claims don’t mean “it could even work for an atheist” because the church also believes in “natural theology,” in the ability to argue for the existence of a God from appeals to natural evidence or experiences not requiring any special revelation. Am I wrong about this?

      I’m also uncertain of the relevance of whether other groups have come up with the same conclusion. There are many philosophies making no claim of supernatural revelation which come up with very unique conclusions just based on the structure of their own purely natural reasoning process: Marxism, Kantianism, Existentialism, etc.

      None of these claim to ground themselves on appeals to supernatural authority, yet they all claim to be “natural laws,” as it were, in the sense of being a value-system and, ultimately, a recipe for human happiness or fulfillment, derived from natural evidence or experience of human life.

      From purely natural experiences they assert different premises or postulates and come up with very different (and some things unique to their philosophy) values. But they are all still on the plane of natural reason, they emphasize different facets or their own “pet” points about experience, but none is appealing to a supernatural authority.

      If the church’s own natural philosophy (prior to any appeal to revelation) proposes something like your “C” on account of your “P” which in turn comes from assumptions about the relationship of “type to token” within desire and how the right type of desire sets a person in relation to the collective…how is this any different than a Marxist arguing for the existence of alienation and false consciousness, or the existentialist for the existence of authenticity?

      None of these philosophies “prove” their point in the sense of strict syllogistic logic. But all of them are examples of natural reasoning that their subscribers believe to be true, and which the rest of us can at least admire as “valid” in the sense of internally consistent and attempting to make sense of natural data, natural human experience. It really becomes a question, then, of which proposed system we think is the “best explanatory fit,” like any models in science, which explains the most evidence while requiring an “explaining-away” of the least.

      Given the plurality of experience, different people will come up with different arguments, different philosophies, and then the dialogue between them will be interminable, and that’s fine. But unless one claims to come directly from some supernatural authority, they’re all arguing in the plane of natural reason. I don’t see why anyone would hold Catholicism’s natural theology or natural ethics to a standard different from Marxism or existentialism or any other attempt at pre- or non-supernatural reasoning or philosophy.

      • July 14, 2013 6:48 pm

        All systems of thought ultimately boil down to axioms that can’t be “proved” as such, but are assumed. For example, we assume the world we sense is real and that we’re not plugged into the Matrix. In geometry we begin with terms such as “point”, “line”, etc., which can’t be defined, but are assumed and intuitively understood. Even though the axioms can’t be demonstrated, they generally are reasonable on an intuitive level. To assume everything we experience is an illusion is madness. Though we can’t really “define” a line, we intuitively know what it is; and so on.

        There is a fairly simple proof that one equals two. The problem is that in effect one divides by zero in the process, and division by zero isn’t allowed. Now if one insisted that division by zero were permissible, then one could develop an entire mathematics where one could show that 1 = 2, then go on iteratively to prove that 2=3, 3=4, and in fact all integers are equal. This result is, of course, absurd; and the invalidity of division by zero can be demonstrated by other means (i.e, in effect the result is infinite). I suppose, however, that someone could still insist that division by zero is OK. Few would accept that, though, nor would the admire the consistency of resulting system in which, say, 14 = 9,000,000!

        .I don’t see why anyone would hold Catholicism’s natural theology or natural ethics to a standard different from Marxism or existentialism or any other attempt at pre- or non-supernatural reasoning or philosophy.

        Well, I don’t–I think Catholicism is the most accurate (or I wouldn’t be Catholic), though not perfect given that it has to manifest among fallible humans. I think that there are many incorrect axioms within Marxism and Existentialism (though they each get some things right); and I think axiom or postulate P above is also incorrect. I can’t strictly prove it’s wrong, any more than I could prove to someone obstinately committed to division by zero that that’s wrong, either; but like division by zero, it strikes me as incoherent and as something that would be adopted only as matter of faith, not as something likely.

        A good critique of natural law theology and its intrinsic problems by David Bently Hart is here.

        • Tripp permalink
          July 14, 2013 9:35 pm

          Mr Hart doesn’t appear to be critiquing natural law reasoning, as such, at all. Indeed he admits from the start that it is in itself metaphysically coherent!

          What he does say is that natural law only makes sense if we already assume a universe where the ends of nature correspond to an “ought,” to the ultimate end of the will, because both come from and correspond to God, to an ultimate end of Being generally.

          He seems to discount, or at least not consider, the possibility to argue for such a God from natural reason either. A bit Fideistic if you ask me.

          Nevertheless, his point isn’t to discount the internal coherence or even correctness of natural law reasoning, but merely to say that it is silly to try to convince the secular world using purely it (and wrong to insist they are willfully in denial or bad faith if it isn’t obvious to them), bracketing the ultimately very much theistic cosmos it already assumes.

          He may well be right there. It may be pointless to try to arrange society politically on the terms of “pure nature” without spiritual conversion FIRST, or at least while attempting to bracket theological vision of any sort. Even theology has moved away from seeing the idea of perfect nature without grace (or perfect natural happiness: the “Limbo” idea) as anything but a theological foil that is not really complete-in-itself at all because nature is made FOR supernature.

          But he’s not saying the reasoning should be rejected or isn’t coherent for Catholics who do accept the existence of God as the end of all Being. I dont think he’s even saying (ala Fideism) that faith is a purely arbitrary leap that puts believers in an epistemological universe that has no common ground for dialogue with unbelievers.

          Either way, from a standpoint that assumes, on account of a faith-infused outlook (even if not directly dependent on it), that “the proper ends of the human will and the final causes of creation are inalienably analogous to one another, because at some ultimate level they coincide”…I don’t see how your “P” is unlikely at all, as it’s practically equivalent to that idea.

        • July 15, 2013 5:03 pm

          The first paragraph of Hart’s article, with my emphasis:

          There is a long, rich, varied, and subtle tradition of natural law theory, almost none of which I find especially convincing, but most of which I acknowledge to be—according to the presuppositions of the intellectual world in which it was gestated—perfectly coherent. My skepticism, moreover, has nothing to do with any metaphysical disagreement. I certainly believe in a harmony between cosmic and moral order, sustained by the divine goodness in which both participate. I simply do not believe that the terms of that harmony are as precisely discernible as natural law thinkers imagine.

          There it is in a nutshell. One–even a Christian–can believe that there is indeed a “harmony between cosmic and moral order, sustained by the divine goodness in which both participate” without believing that “the terms of that harmony are as precisely discernible as natural law thinkers imagine.” To put it differently, I think natural law is a much blunter instrument than Scholastics do. That is, it’s not too hard to show that murder or theft are wrong, or that prudence, temperance, justice, fortitude, etc. are good means of ordering one’s life. It is difficult, however, to start deriving specific, especially excruciatingly fine-tuned, moral arguments, such as the ones the Church uses against contraception, from the broad principles of natural law. Some interpretations of just war theory suffer from similar problems.

          It’s worth pointing out that Hart is Orthodox, and though there has been some Scholastic influence in Orthodoxy, especially in the Renaissance, it has by and large based its moral theology on non-Scholastic viewpoints It is also worth pointing out that while the Orthodox Church isn’t exactly a cheerleader for contraception, it has by and large taken the view of the majority of the commission assembled (and then ignored) by Paul VI, that is, that a married couple for sufficient reason can use it if the marriage as a whole is open to life.

  14. July 13, 2013 6:44 pm

    Great! I just did something along these lines today before subscribing to this blog:

    http://cosmostheinlost.wordpress.com/2013/07/13/abortion-natural-law-antisemitism/

    Looking forward to the conversation. From the looks of it I’ll be reblogging your post.

  15. Ronald King permalink
    July 16, 2013 9:29 am

    Trellis on July 11, “Sometimes these philosophical and theological ramblings here and elsewhere serve only a logic within themselves and are for really no other purpose…” I believe the “ramblings” serve the purpose of keeping one’s identity in place in the face of the awareness that one must preserve one’s life at all cost rather than risk losing it within the abyss of the unknown. In the ’60′s and ’70′s hallucinogens were used as an attempt to break free of one’s core beliefs about self, others and the world/universe. The result was a temporary break from left brain dominance and its use of language, logic and linear thinking to construct a predictable self, other and world view. This had many consequences most of which resulted in a loss of self, precipitated by the loss of psychological defenses which functioned to prevent the intrusion of repressed and painful developmental memories associated with the loss of a safe and loving attachment to one or both parents. In this vulnerable state many experienced the moments which they instinctively knew that they were nothing unless they fused with those caregivers who were the source of their safety and belonging rather than the source of their isolation and nothingness. So, they hid their truth and became what others wanted them to be. The result was an underlying void of nothingness and fear being the foundation of their human identity which was defended at all costs from being revealed. The peace protests and the sexual revolution were attempts to free oneself from the past which had so much violence associated with becoming a member of society. Sex was a step to gain connection to self and other at some preconscious level. Obviously we are still confused and defensive.

    • trellis smith permalink
      July 17, 2013 1:54 am

      Interesting take Mr King,
      i was once invited on a shamanic voyage to drink Ayahuasca tea to confront my own psychological and intellectual defenses. Not to deny anyone’s experience with the amazonian teas i have never been drawn to seek out the mystical or transcendent experience but to let it fall upon me where it may in the course of my daily life. This despite my ready acknowledgment of the confines of my meager intellect. Still it is a little light endowed to me through evolution and vouchsafed to me by the Creator that I would not tamper with it lightly. i can imagine the dawning of human consciousness as terrifying and the dissolution of it must be equally so.

      That said it is important to rationally understand and incorporate how the irrational, intuitive and instinctual underlies and motivates our seemingly rational actions and being. This interplay of the Apollonian and Dionysian aspects of our character rightfully still fascinates me, It is an interplay in many ways with fear having a leading and often a destructive role. Honesty compels me to say that I inhabit my faith struggling to hear the angelic voices to fear not. Others may use a fifth of scotch to get them through the night.

  16. Jordan permalink
    July 16, 2013 9:31 am

    EconomistDemographer [July 12, 2013 10:28 am] [transferred]: Average age of marriage tends to be determined by economic factors which correctly calibrate things so that the fewer kids an economy needs, the longer education and attaining career-stability (and thus the readiness to marry) take.

    I agree with your procreative model to a point. The ” ‘developed’ economies inherently rest at a 2.1 replacement rate” theory holds only for marxist- or capitalist-derived (or hybrid) economies. In the marxist progeny states (the historic post-Stalinist states as well as the current Mao-Xiaoping state), population replacement was or still is enforced through coerced or forced abortion, sterilization, and other centrally imposed population control measures. In capitalist societies, the procreative delay in some income groups might be balanced by greater procreation in other groups. Still, it’s important to remember that abortion, though ostensibly voluntary in the “capitalist West”, also exerts a level of perverse control over procreation. 2.1 cannot be attributed simply to supply-demand, income, or education, as socioeconomic models other than capitalism have tried (with varying degrees of success) to create a reproductive mean, often through blatant atrocity.

    A quantifiable replacement rate stems directly from the Industrial Revolution and its detractors. Before the rise of industry, both procreation and the matrimonial institution were much more variable and malleable than under the last two centuries or so of industrialization. Not surprisingly, the betrothed in European subsistence agrarian societies often conceived their first child before the nuptials. Given frequent and early child mortality and the necessity of farmhands, few couples could take the risk of wedding without ensuring that procreation was possible. What better way to find out? Hence it’s not inconceivable that most agrarian societies reached a reproductive mean not from either the pressures of wealth-creation or an idealization of moral obligation (e.g. taboos against fornication), but rather a chaotic arrival at a mean.

    I often sigh in frustration when stuffed shirts such as the late Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, or an EWTN homilist rant about “fornication” or “promiscuity”. Certain segments of developed societies can only extol a “wait til marriage” ideal because of the well-tamped floor of an industralized (and often antimoral) mentality. The almost saintly ideal of self-righteous preachers is quite a new innovation, despite the religious-y spackling some zealously apply to hide the record of history.

  17. July 17, 2013 1:53 pm

    It’s worth pointing out that some Catholics still hold the old hardline approach characterized by Clement of Alexandria. I was reading Crisis Magazine yesterday and a poster said that infertile people (not impotent, infertile) should not be allowed to marry, and that post-menopausal woman should not have sex. If there’s no possibility of procreation, then it is sinful.

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