The Solitary Vice

This paper consists of extracts of a document written by a correspondent and posted to the Web. His text is in brown, my comments are in black.
Truth is eternal and never changes. God is truth, and God is eternal, and God never changes.
This is true; but human understanding of reality and what is good and wholesome and just does change. Even the Church's Magisterium changes its judgement on things, such as the morality or otherwise of slavery and usury.
We cannot arbitrarily change certain values to fit according to our moods or feelings or “opinions.” God and truth (and certainly not love!) are not at all about personal “opinion” or gut feeling or “the times,” for all these change from one moment to the next. Love and truth are eternal, just as the true Source of love and truth is Himself eternal.
This is also true, but my previous response is still an adequate refutation of the implication behind this paragraph. I am a strong believer in objective ethics, but a strong disbeliever in conventional absolutist ethics - as favoured by John Paul II, and (to a lesser extent) by Benedict XVI.
God gave us the gift of sexuality for a purpose. Yes, that is true, sexuality is not of itself sinful at all, but a divine gift from God to man. But it has a purpose, and it is meant to be used for such a purpose.
This is true and the correct place to start from. If one answers the question "What is the purpose - 'Teleos' in Greek - of sex?" correctly and follows through from this answer with rigour and intellectual integrity, then one will have a good ethic of sexuality. Contrariwise, if one answers this question wrongly - even slightly wrongly - then there is no hope. It is easy to show as an exercise in logic that the acceptance of even one false axiom allows the deduction of any amount and degree of error!
Just as God Himself is love and expressed that love within the context of relationship (with man and also as the Trinity), so too must we express our love and sexuality as such: sexuality is meant to unite the two partners (heterosexual mind you, and in the context of marriage) and the couple must be open to the gift of life should God grant it to them.
Why?

Note that our author has immediately gone back on the programme that he indicated he would be following. He has answered about four specific questions as if these answers were the axioms from which the ethics of sexuality should be deduced. This is to put the cart before the horse!

This statement is considered by today's societal and cultural norms as “too conservative,” “militantly fundamentalist,” “religious fanaticism,”
Or just plain ignorant! For an idea of how the job should really be done, click here.
but once more, these is not personal opinion here, but biblical and Catholic doctrine handed down to us through the generations under the guidance of the Holy Spirit who guides the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ Who is the Head of the Church He established upon St Peter and his successors.
No it isn't! This is not the place for a detailed refutation of my correspondent's claim. I refer my readers to the following articles:
  • Sex and its purpose.
  • Marriage and its purpose.
  • Scripture and "homosexuality"
  • Catholic Tradition and "homosexuality"
  • Modern official Catholic teaching and "homosexuality"

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    In this context, masturbation is immoral, as is anal and oral sex, extramarital sex, pornography, contraception and birth control, and above all, abortion. All these sins thwart the procreative aspects of sexuality for the sake of personal pleasure. This is not only against the true nature and purpose of sexuality, but also a violation of the dignity and honour of the human person, because in essence the two individuals involved tell each other (in action if not in words) that they are being used exclusively for the sake of the sexual pleasure of their partner and not for the sake of establishing a relationship or accepting the gift of life as a gift from God Himself.

    It would seem that the author is saying that all pleasure is bad and that all "use" by one person of another for the sake of pleasure is bad. What then of playing chess?

    The fact that sex - obviously - has "procreation" as its origination [alpha-point] (that is, if there was no need for living creatures to reproduce and "mix their genes up", then "sex" wouldn't exist) does not imply that the only objective [omega-point] of sex is "procreation". Bonobo monkeys, for example, are notorious for using "casual sex" as we use a hand-shake, hug or pat-on-the back.

    Abortion is, of course, nothing to do with "sex" but to do with "killing". I shall therefor excise all subsequent references to abortion from my corespondent's text. Of course, it ought to be borne in mind that the original conventional antipathy to masturbation (as found in Plato and Aquinas) was the mistaken belief that every extra-vaginal seminal emission amounted to murder.

    "Nor yet should it be counted a slight sin for one to procure the emission of the semen irrespective of the due purpose of generation and rearing of issue, on the pretence that it is a slight sin, or no sin at all, to apply any part of one's body to another use than that to which it is naturally ordained, as if, for example, one were to walk on his hands, or do with his feet something that ought to be done with his hands. The answer is that by such inordinate applications as those mentioned the good of man is not greatly injured: but the inordinate emission of the semen is repugnant to the good of nature, which is the conservation of the species. Hence, after the sin of murder, whereby a human nature already in actual existence is destroyed, this sort of sin seems to hold the second place, whereby the generation of human nature is precluded." [Aquinas: "Summa Contra Gentiles"]
    But note the careful "seems", which undermines the whole argument!
    "... this law of ours which permits the sexual act only for its natural purpose, procreation, and forbids not only homosexual relations, in which the human race is deliberately murdered, but also the sowing of seed on rocks and stone, where it will never take root and mature into a new individual; and we should also keep away from any female 'soil' in which we'd be sorry to have the seed develop... The first point in its favour is that it is a natural law."
    [Plato Laws VII (838e-839a)]

    Masturbation itself is specifically wrong because sexuality is an expression of love,

    On the contrary:
    "This conjugal faith, however, which is most aptly called by St. Augustine the "faith of chastity" blooms more freely, more beautifully and more nobly, when it is rooted in that more excellent soil, the love of husband and wife..."
    [Pius XI: "Cast Connubii #23a" (1930)]
    Here Pius XI makes it entirely clear (albeit implicitly) that the legitimacy of sexual activity is not dependent upon it being an expression of love, but rather that sex can properly be used for the purpose of procreation even when the sexual partners have absolutely no affection for each other - as in a dynastic marriage, where the generation of a co-heir between two parties who have been political enemies and who cordially hate each other might be a very great good.

    Clearly, what my correspondent means is that "Every sex act should be an expression of  love." - but then consider the following proposition of which it is but a special case: "Every voluntary act should be an expression of  love." From a Christian perspective, this is undeniably true; and it has nothing particularly to do with sex. It therefore remains to be shown that "sex" has got anything particularly to do with love. My correspondent is guilty attempting to mislead by a process of ethical "slight of hand". Indeed, Plato teaches that sexual activity tends to be an allowable derogation from the highest kind of love; that is "ardent friendship". He says that if two lovers refrain from sex they will be rewarded with lives of bliss, grow spiritual wings and so be able to rise to gain Heaven. [Phaedrus (256a-b)] However, even if they do make physical love, and:

    "commit that act which ordinary people would take to be the happiest choice of all; and when they have consummated it once, they go on doing this for the rest of their lives, but sparingly, since they have not approved of what they are doing with their whole minds. So these two also live in mutual friendship (though weaker than the philosophical pair), both while they are in love and after they have passed beyond it, because they realize they have exchanged such firm vows that it would be forbidden for them ever to break them and become enemies. In death they are wingless when they leave the body, but their wings are bursting to sprout, so the prize they have won from the madness [not here construed as a bad thing - ed] of love is considerable; because those who have begun the sacred journey in lower heaven may not by law be sent into darkness for the journey under the earth; their lives are bright and happy as they travel together, and thanks to their love they will grow wings together when the time comes." [Phaedrus (256c-d)]
    All we are saying here is "Love and do what you will!" and from this wholesome adage one cannot possibly deduce whether any particular act - divorced from its context and intentionality - is being done as an expression of love or not. When I eat a carrot, is this wrong because it is not "an expression of love" or perhaps only an expression of "self-love"? What is the basic difference between enjoying the pleasure of consuming of a succulent ripe peach and masturbation?
    and love includes the one who loves the beloved as well as the beloved. In this case, masturbation is actually the love of self, one can argue, since he who engages in self pleasure is actually saying that the only reason why he thinks of the other is for the sake of engaging in sexual acts only for the sake of self gratification, as well as making the decision that such an action is not worth waiting for until marriage. One can also say it is a lack of love not only for the other but for ones self, as one abuses (that is, misuses) his body for the sake of sexual gratification.
    This is incoherent. Clearly no-one engaged in any form of solitary enjoyment - such as solving a Suduko puzzle - is saying anything remotely like "the only reason why he thinks of the other is for the sake of... self gratification". Neither is someone who enjoys playing chess at a club with some anonymous partner (whom they have never met before and will never meet again) doing anything wrong in "using" that partner for their own enjoyment. The point is - of course - that both players benefit and each player consents to benefit the other: it is a fair trade in enjoyment. No-one is harmed, no injustice is done, no-one's rights or personal integrity is infringed. Neither would think that they were "using" the other or being "used" by them; they each consented to a co-operative act for their mutual benefit and satisfaction.

    No harmless consensual act can possibly be illicit. For masturbation to be immoral, it must be shown to be harmful - either physically or psychologically or morally - if the third is somehow different from the second. My correspondent suggests that it might be harmful in derogating from the respect due to marriage - but this would have to be demonstrated by the results of scientific research.

    How my correspondent can think to propose the argument that masturbation is "is a lack of love not only for the other but for one's self, as one abuses (that is, misuses) his body for the sake of sexual gratification." when he hasn't yet given any reason for thinking that it is an abuse, beggars belief. This kind of "inverse argument" is very popular in the Vatican, but is entirely invalid and irrational.

    St Paul warns us against abusing our bodies, as they are the Temples of the Holy Spirit! (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 6:9-11, 19-20)
    Indeed, but what constitutes abuse?  Over-eating, rock-climbing, fasting, wearing hair-shirts, dancing, drinking alcohol...?
    Some will contend and say that it is not a sin for a teenager undergoing the physiological changes of puberty to engage in masturbation as a legitimate expression of his sexuality and the changes he is undergoing. Such is not the case. It is true that such an individual who is undergoing such a stage or who for whatever given reason has not matured out of such an expression of sexuality is not as guilty as one who later in life assumes the practice.
    On a minor matter: what does maturing "out of such an expression of sexuality" mean? This sounds like the suggestion either that as the typical  human being moves on into early adult-hood, their libido or sexual appetite declines or else that the typical human being becomes more "self-disciplined" and able to withstand their "base urges". All well and good for those for whom this may be true. A small minority of adults are - I understand - pretty much "asexual" and have little interest in sex; but this cannot be construed as either usual or normative. Most folk find that the sexual appetite and the urges that go with it are a continuing feature of their lives and they come to terms with and manage the delightful inconveniences that are associated with this biological reality in various ways.

    However, the underlying premise of this paragraph is that there is something to be guilty about. My correspondent has not established this, except by empty assertion, hence the rest of what he says is entirely without value.

    One would say that masturbation is the “lesser evil” to rape or incest or other illegitimate sexual practices. Again, a half truth, because one evil does not justify another. Sin is sin, and sin can never justify itself in any form.
    On the contrary, when there was a basis - though mistaken - for the rational condemnation of masturbation, it was accounted as a very serious sin indeed! See the extract from Aquinas above.  It was argued that the matter (sexual activity) was always grave, that the agent was always entirely aware of what they were doing and that it was wrong and that they were under no constraint to act as they did: so the sin was always mortal.
    Sin, my friends, is the result of man's pride, and sin brought a certain chaos and disorder into the life of man and the universe. Man's compulsion to express a legitimate gift in illegitimate manners is such a consequence. Masturbation, homosexual acts, sexual acts outside of marriage, and anal and oral sex (even within marriage) all constitute sinful expressions of a beautiful gift given to us by God. Certainly there are many more sexual sins than these, but I mention these only to [hopefully] express some disgust in the heart of the reader.
    This paragraph begs so many vitally important questions as to be entirely inadmissible. For example: "What is 'sin'?"; "What makes an act 'sinful'?"; "Why is this so?"; "How is masturbation an expression of 'pride'?"; "How does masturbation introduce chaos into the life of a human being?".

    Now my correspondent introduces another idea the idea of a "compulsion" to act in an "illegitimate manner". He seems to be taking the Lutheran position that human nature has - for some unknown reason; perhaps a Divine punishment? - been so depraved and corrupted by "Adam's sin of disobedience" that it has developed almost irresistible self-destructive tendencies. Let us consider this idea carefully.

    1. Why would God punish such a disobedience by introducing into human nature a tendency to be more unruly?
    2. Why is it that human sexuality is so much more vitiated than any other aspect of the fallen human nature?
    3. It is pretty clear that human sexuality is not so different from that of other animals and I don't think that it would generally be thought that the prehistoric sexuality of animals was somehow vitiated in anticipation of  "The Fall of Man".
    4. It has still not been established that any of my correspondent's list of taboo sexual activities are, in fact, harmful to any-one and so unjust, illegitimate and sinful.
    5. How can sexual activity be said to be "beautiful" in a way that any other physiological act such as mastication or micturation cannot be said to be?
      God is Love. This is seen in many ways, but especially in two ways: His existence as one Deity yet three distinct yet equal persons who are essentially one; and by His becoming Man in order to die for our sins. God is one God, yet He exists in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The Father is not the Son nor the Holy Ghost, the Son is not the Holy Ghost nor the Father, and the Holy Ghost is not the Father nor the Son. They are all three distinct persons, yet they are all essentially and substantially one because they share the same divine nature. They are not three gods but one by virtue of that same divine nature they each share, yet they are three different persons while still one God. It should not seem strange since God is love, and in love you need at least two persons, the Lover and the Beloved. The Father is the Lover, He Who eternally loves the Son, Who is begotten of the Father. The Son is the Beloved, and returns love for love, as He also eternally loves the Father. This fire of divine, ideal, perfect love shared by the two is the Holy Ghost, Who is the bond between the Father and the Son.
    This is better theology. If this image is taken seriously, the Trinity shows the excellence of incestuous homosexual love: that of a Father for his Son!