Saturday, February 24, 2007

Body and Bride

The Anglican Scotist presents a theological argument for blessing same-sex unions:

1. Christ was resurrected in the flesh, and will exist in the world to come.
2. In the world to come, members of the Church will be resurrected, male and female, in the flesh.
3. In the world to come, the members of the Church will bear a new real, reciprocal relation to Christ; call it R.
4. Here below, marriage should be modeled on R.
5. R obtains between males: for instance, Christ and each blessed male.
6. As R obtains between males (from 5), and marriage is to be modeled on R (from 4), marriage may obtain between males.

The idea behind the argument is that it, unlike other arguments, is supposed to be "set out in the style of the Anglican right"; Bates argues that the only step at which the orthodox right can balk is (6). I don't think this is true; the most natural place for conservative Anglicans to balk is at (4). The Scriptural ground for it is Ephesians 5:21-33; but that passage says nothing about the relation members of the Church will bear in the world to come. Instead, it talks about the relation the Church itself bears now to Christ as its savior. R, as elaborated in 3, does indeed obtain between Christ and male saints; but we are nowhere told that R should be the model of marriage. There are, in fact, three interlocked analogues in the text: Christ/Church, husband/wife, self/body; by ignoring the third, the corporate dimension of the relation is lost. Nor does the move to the world to come salvage anything; the bride of the Lamb in Revelation 21 is not the citizens of the New Jerusalem but the spiritual city itself. So I don't think conservative Anglicans will have any serious problem denying the argument's soundness in good conscience.

Bates recognizes this possible line of reasoning, and tries to argue against this by denying that the Church is anything above and beyond its members; but it is clear that this simply is not an adequate response, because one could say my body is not anything above and beyond its members. It is a clear fallacy, however, to assume that because my body is not anything above and beyond its members that every relation between self and body is a relation between self and every particular body-part. It might be constituted by such relations; but it is not the same as them. For instance, the moon has a particular relation R to the earth, consisting in its orbit; but it does not follow that the moon orbits every particular part of the earth individually, but only that all the parts together form a whole that the moon orbits.

Now, there is a tradition, a venerable one, seeing the threefold analogy noted above as also analogous to the relation between God and the soul; but there is nothing making it definitive as a model of marriage. In fact, the reverse is true; this analogy is a metaphor based on the characterization of marriage we draw from the threefold analogy. This is why I think the protest about the asymmetry of R can't be so easily dismissed as Bates thinks it can; the problem is not that the argument denies the asymmetry of R, but that the asymmetry of R is massive, and the argument ignores this. The Church, as Body of Christ, has been made fit through His salvation to be the Bride of Christ; but the individual Christian is not the Body but a member, a cell or organ of the Body, and the relation between self and body is a far more intimate union than the relation between self and body part. For in a real and straightforward sense I am my body; my relation to my eye is not so straightforward. The reciprocity between myself and my body is so close that, while a distinction must be made that breaks identity and sometimes is very important, they can, in all situations save those that require high precision, be treated as equivalent. This is why corporate reciprocity provides a good sign or symbol of marriage. Not so with myself and my eye; and it would be utterly absurd to say that our model of marriage should be this relation between self and eye. Since the eye is part of the body, by simple synecdoche we can model the relation between self and eye on the relation between self and body; but there is a massive asymmetry in one that shows that we are, in fact, dealing with a figure of speech, however fruitful it may be, and not a close analogue.

Thus when Bates argues the following, it is clear that it is not an adequate response to 'the recalcitrant', as he calls them:

But even if some recalcitrant should hang on to a metaphysical view of the church as an entity unto itself with respect to R, the argument can still be run. Concede R, and change the argument to talk about S instead--that is, in virtue of entering into R with the uber-entity-church, Christ also enters into S with the members of the uber-entity-church, and marriage here below is meant to be modeled after S.

The recalcitrant will simply point out that understood this way we have Scriptural reason to hold that R is the model for marriage, not S. The 'recalcitrant' are in fact not committed to saying that the Church is an uber-entity; but whether they do or not, I suspect they will generally be tempted to regard this argument as a bit of sophistical misdirection.

So I don't think the argument works. However, even if we set this aside, I think the argument is a poor strategic move for the same reason the type of argument it is supposed to replace is a poor strategic move. That argument was as follows:

Arg. I
(1) Same-sex unions realizing the unitive end do so by God's love.
(2) Any realization of the unitive end effected by God's love is holy.
Therefore, (3) same-sex unions realizing the unitive end are holy.

Arg. II:
(1) Same-sex unions exhibiting effects of the Spirit are holy.
(2) There are same-sex unions exhibiting the effects of the Spirit.
Therefore, (3) There are holy same-sex unions.

Arg. III:
(1) The church is permitted to bless holy unions.
(2) Some same-sex unions are holy.
Therefore, (3) The church is permitted to bless some same-sex unions.

Bates is quite right to point out that this fails as a strategic maneuver because of its detachment from Scripture; but there is more to it than that. As Bates interprets the argument, the key issue is whether there is evidence for II.2, which he thinks there is. Let it be conceded that there is such evidence. The conservative Anglican can still point out that a proponent of something recognized as vile -- for instance, pedophilia -- could run a parallel argument; and the problem with such an argument is not that there is no empirical evidence for the effects of the Spirit in pedophile unions, but that there an insuperable obstacle to believing I.1, namely, that pedophilia is immoral, and nothing immoral can 'realize the unitive end'. And if this is true then even if there were evidence that the effects of the Spirit were seen in pedophile unions, this of itself would be reason to think that either the evidence is merely misleading, or (at the very best assessment) the effects are exhibited in the union in spite of its vile character, not because it's holy but because the Spirit's grace is capable of bringing good even from the vilest things. Thus, while the argument may be a great place for someone who believes that same-sex unions can be moral to start building a theology of same-sex unions, it's a horrible argument for persuading someone who believes that Scripture requires us to hold that same-sex unions are immoral.

Bates's argument suffers from the same strategic flaw. While it's an improvement in recognizing that grounding in Scripture is necessary, any conservative Anglican who takes a long pause to think the matter through will simply come to dismiss it as yet another attempt to turn Scripture into a wax nose through vague equivocations and evasions. The dispute really does have to take place in the venue of "obscure and nearly unique Greek terms, historical contexts of temple prostitutes and boy toys," because these are relevant to determining whether same-sex unions really must be regarded in light of Scripture as immoral. This is not good news, I think; because there really are serious reasons for both sides to try to get away from these topics of dispute in order to find some way to handle the dispute that doesn't require slogging through all this mess and muddle. For one thing, it has become more and more clear that these topics begin eating up time and resources like crazy -- time and resources that both sides would greatly prefer to spend elsewhere, if only the dispute could be resolved. But I don't think there's good news for Anglicans here; the only possible strategies that I can see are slogging through these details, ignoring the matter entirely, or fracturing into separate groups. The first is likely to be heated and interminable; the second likely to be impossible given the moral views of both sides; the third is obviously a last resort. So, in any case, thinks this non-Anglican.

(Incidentally, in an aside at the end, Bates brings up the old claim that Aquinas holds that the female is a defective male. In fact, it is Aristotle as received in the Latin who holds that the female is a defective male; Aquinas on the contrary argues that the only thing this can reasonably mean is the Aristotelian view that males result from the semen, as the 'male' principle, overpowering the female principle and that females result from a defect in such power, as a result of which the female principle wins. He denies it any more significance than this. There definitely are important points at which one can say that Aquinas's reasoning is incomplete because he uncritically takes a male perspective; but this is not one of them.)

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