I’ve spent the last year and a half immersed in understanding the Christian worldview and explaining it to twelfth graders. The last few days I’ve done a lot of writing on homosexuality (after many years of reading on the topic in articles and books), and I just came across this quote in a review of Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior is Changing Everything. I believe this is profoundly true, and an extremely important insight:
At bottom in the debate over same-sex “marriage” are two opposing views of reality. On one side you have a vision of reality where nature “is teleologically ordered to ends that inhere in their essence and make them what they are” (xi). On the other is the view that things in themselves do not have a “teleologically ordered” purpose but rather can be made what they are by an act of the will. Thus, as Reilly astutely observes, the same-sex “marriage” debate is about more than just marriage. “Since the meaning of our lives is dependent upon the Nature of reality, it too hangs in the balance” (xii).
“Two opposing views of reality”? Isn’t that a little extreme? Am I just trying to inflate the importance of my view in order to rally the flagging faithful? No—I don’t expect the faithful to care much about this argument. But I still think it’s important.
One of the most difficult books I ever got through was Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue. What kept me going was a desire to see the best of human attempts to ground human morality. Having battled through, and having taken extensive notes, I believe a re-read would be much easier, because he really does make one big point. And that point is similar to the quotes you read above. The Enlightenment project failed to give us a consistent basis for morality, so we must recover, MacIntyre says, the (Aristotelian) view that everything, even cultural institutions, has a “teleology,” a built-in purpose or end point. Life is a quest to discern the best telos for any cultural practice and then use that telos to generate the virtues necessary to achieve it. MacIntyre thinks this approach to morality will deliver
a rationally and morally defensible standpoint from which to judge and to act—and in terms of which to evaluate various rival and heterogeneous moral schemes which compete for our allegiance. (xviii)
But though MacIntyre converted to Catholicism around the publishing of After Virtue (which was published by Notre Dame University Press), I searched his book in vain for a distinctively Christian grounding for morality—or some other ultimate point of view from which to evaluate rival moral schemes. I came up empty-handed. Lots of genuine insights just floating around (MacIntyre is excessively smart and occasionally hilarious), that’s all. He argued (pp. 218–219) that people cannot know their telos from the beginning. They have to discover it. And all cultures are in the same boat:
A living tradition … is an historically extended, socially embodied argument, and an argument precisely in part about the goods which constitute that tradition. (222)
I don’t see any signs that such intercultural arguments are arriving at a consensus, do you? Whose justice is truly fair then? Which rationality is reasonable? I haven’t read MacIntyre’s book purporting to tackle those questions. Perhaps he succeeds there.
Here’s my answer to the problem of ultimate moral grounding: without an Absolute Triune Person, there’s no such thing. But if He creates—and tells us that His creation was “very good,” and appeals to that creation throughout His written revelation as a standard by which we judge the way things ought to be (1 Cor. 11:1ff.; Matt. 19:4)—then anything found to be creational is therefore normative. Though there was a fall to mess things up (including our capacity to judge what’s truly creational and what’s fallen), there can be and is a natural law. There is a teleological order, too, because God in His grace (according to Scripture) has decreed an end for His creation: grace restores nature; it will all be redeemed. We’re not on a quest for a telos. We know it. It’s union with the divine in a New Earth.
To say “It doesn’t matter what I do with my body” is to say, “I define reality in my world; I choose my telos under no authority but my own.” You cannot practice or defend homosexuality and have a Christian worldview; you’ll be denying clear (I persist in saying it’s clear) divine revelation to the contrary in both your Bible and your body. Indeed, if you won’t read your Bible, read your body: God has instituted a created order which we twist at our peril.* Pro-gay Christians are giving up more than at first appears—and that’s saying something.
*I love all practicing homosexuals, and a few in particular. I always feel the need to add this disclaimer: I want to retain the right to love a gay family member, say, while disagreeing with their most cherished beliefs—just as they want the freedom to do with me. Acceptance of my worldview will necessarily eliminate some or all of the things they hold most dear. All I’m saying is that, mutatis mutandis, asking me to change my view on the morality of homosexual acts will do the same for me. I don’t want a culture war, but clearly this is why we have one. No, the sky did not fall when the SCOTUS declined to hear those cases on gay marriage recently. But it creaked horribly.