Friday 21 October 2011

How to reason with a hypnotized culture

Having thought carefully about all the issues involved, you are clearly just another Catholic bigot…

In my posting on 18 October 2011, I left open the question as to how Catholics should open a discussion with a culture that only gives two minutes for a debate on issues such as same sex ‘marriage’.

One way is illustrated by John Haldane’s article in this week’s Sunday Herald (16 October 2011) (which unfortunately doesn’t seem to be online). There he contrasts modern liberalism, with its ‘talk of equality and rights’ with three other views:

1)      ‘traditional conservatives who favour social duties over social claims’
2)      ‘traditional socialists who see links between the culture of rights and that of consumerism’; and
3)      ‘the morality and politics of the common good’ which ‘shaped the founding cultures of Greece and Rome’.

It is this latter view which lies at the heart of Catholic thinking on ethics. Specifically on same sex ‘marriage’:

            …[M]arriage exists for the sake of making and maintaining family life, the roots of which lie in natural complementarities: in male and female of the species joining together one-to-one, with the intention of creating another. That other, or others borne of the fusion of their parents’ diverse identities, thereby extend a union of two to a community of several.

            Marriage recognises, celebrates and protects this basic source of human society.   It is not an entitlement to be claimed, and its meaning and value were understood long before the idea of rights were ever conceived of.

Two things are going on here: firstly, the reader is being encouraged to think that there is a deeper argument to be had here, one which is scarcely even acknowledged by the proponents of same sex ‘marriage’. Even if you can’t articulate that argument in two minutes –and it’s hard to imagine anyone from the other side being convinced by the brief explanation given by Haldane- you can alert people to its existence. Secondly, the roots of that argument in pre-Christian philosophical culture –and not just the fevered, imaginings of the religious- is being stressed.

Both good things and needing to be said. However, the taster of the argument with its talk of complementarities and procreation is unlikely to draw anyone into further research who isn’t already sympathetic to a Catholic ethics. Moreover –from previous combox discussions of my own- the appeal to Graeco-Roman culture is likely to confirm proponents of same sex ‘marriage’ in their view that opposition to ‘fairness and equality’ is rooted in ancient prejudice rather than modern reason.

None of this should be read as a criticism of Haldane who is one of those rare things in modern Scotland: a national intellectual figure with a deserved international standing. He is right about the existence of a deeper argument, right about its broad outlines and right about the importance of Graeco-Roman philosophical culture. But to acknowledge this shouldn’t blind us to the unlikelihood of his analysis getting a successful hearing.

Well, all that’s something I’ll doubtless be returning to again and again. But what about the other categories above –the traditional conservatives and socialists?  Why is there no non-religious voice being raised in favour of a Burkean conservatism, one suspicious of innovation, sceptical of the claimed powers of reason:

            By adhering in this manner and on those principles to our forefathers, we are guided not by the superstition of antiquarians, but by the spirit of philosophic analogy. In this choice of inheritance we have given to our polity the image of a relation in blood; binding up the constitution of our country with our dearest domestic ties; adopting our fundamental laws into the bosom of our family affections; keeping inseparable, and cherishing with the warmth of all their combined and mutually reflected charities, our state, our hearths, our sepulchres, and our altars (Reflections on the Revolution in France).

Why are there no voices on the secular feminist left raised in suspicion of a form of social organization that encourages the view that gender doesn’t really matter? Why no socialists worried about the reduction of human life to monads unable to resist the capitalist machine?

Don’t misunderstand me here. I do not believe that it is clear that any traditional conservative or any traditional socialist who thought about same sex ‘marriage’ would automatically be opposed to it, any more than I think that any neo-Aristotelian who thought about it would automatically be opposed either. But a moment’s thought ought to show that any of these three views contain resources which should make them at least aware of the complexities of the issues involved. And yet –outwith orthodox religions- any sign of the complexity involved here is steamrollered under the sort of mesmerized support for same sex ‘marriage’ that regards any sort of opposition as obvious bigotry. The only exception I'm aware of here is Frank Furedi's article in Spiked (here) where Furedi (humanist and founder of the Revolutionary Communist Party) castigates precisely the same smug, thoughtless dismissal of other views that I'm objecting to here:

The preoccupation of professional victimologists is reflected in popular culture. Cinema and television transmit stereotypical stories about unhappy, failed and dysfunctional heterosexual marriages. In contrast, same-sex unions are treated with reverence and often depicted as a mature relationship between two equals.
Of course heterosexual couples continue to get married, but there has been no time in history when this institution enjoyed such feeble affirmation. Indeed, these days they are often likely to hear the refrains: “Why get married?” or “Why wait for marriage before having children?”
Paradoxically, in some quarters the idea that marriage for heterosexuals is no big deal coincides with the cultural sacralising of a same-sex union.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that behind the gay marriage discussion lurk profound questions about how to endow intimate relations with meaning.
In such circumstances elite-sanctioned snobbish intolerance is no more acceptable than anti-gay prejudice. 

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