The Last Superstition: No Kinky Sex!

Chapter 4: Natural law

We now get to the section on “natural law” morality, which Feser begins by telling us that New Atheists and secularists hate “traditional morality”, by which he means homophobia, and insinuates that Richard Dawkins is, if not a pedophile, then at least an apologist for pedophilia.

He starts by going back to final causes, applied to organs: eyes are for seeing. And it’s not wrong to wear glasses, if you need them, because they help you to see, and seeing is what eyes are for.

He tries to preempt the “being gay is natural, and has a genetic component” argument by comparing homosexuality to having a clubfoot or a predisposition to alcoholism: harmful genetic defects that impart no blame to the victim, but also conditions that we are expected not to wish for:

Even amid the depravity of modern civilization, most people realize that the life of an alcoholic is simply not a good thing, even if the alcoholic himself thinks it is and even if he “doesn’t hurt anybody else.” We know in our bones that there is something ignoble and unfitting about it. […] We all know in our bones that someone obsessed with masturbating to pictures of naked toddlers is sick, and not living the way a human being ought to live [p. 134]

If you’ve spent any time discussing gay rights, you know how this dance goes: pedophiles are icky and bad, zoophiliacs are icky and bad, necrophiliacs are icky and bad. So what about gay people? Well, homosexuality is defined by buttsex, which is icky and thus, by induction, bad. To which the obvious rejoinder is that if you don’t like buttsex, don’t engage in it.

Feser tackles this argument thusly:

Now I realize, of course, that many readers will acknowledge that we do in fact have these reactions, but would nevertheless write them off as mere reactions. “Our tendency to find something personally disgusting,” they will sniff, “doesn’t show that there is anything objectively wrong with it.” This is the sort of stupidity-masquerading-as-insight that absolutely pervades modern intellectual life, and it has the same source as so many other contemporary intellectual pathologies: the abandonment of the classical realism of the great Greek and Scholastic philosophers, and especially of Aristotle’s doctrine of the four causes. [p. 135]

In other words, homosexuality and any other icky sex is immoral because of the ick factor, and the ick factor is a reliable guide to morality because Aristotle, even if you fools are too foolish to recognize his brilliance.

Feser then explains, at length, that living beings have an essence, and conforming to this essence helps them to live in a way that promotes health and well-being. Sex was designed for reproduction, and “Mother Nature very obviously wants us to have babies, and lots of them [p. 142]”, and it’s immoral to choose to go against what nature wants.

Now if there really are Aristotelian natures, essences, final causes, etc., then the lesson of all this for sexual morality should be obvious. Since the final cause of human sexual capacities is procreation, what is good for human beings in the use of those capacities is to use them only in a way consistent with this final cause or purpose. This is a necessary truth; for the good for us is defined by our nature and the final causes of its various elements. It cannot possibly be good for us to use them in any other way, whether an individual person thinks it is or not, any more than it can possibly be good for an alcoholic to indulge his taste for excessive drink or the mutant squirrel of our earlier example to indulge his taste for Colgate toothpaste.

This comes across as a variation on the naturalistic fallacy (which, it amuses me to note, is often used by crunchy-granola hippie types whom Feser would, I’m sure, abhor), combined with condescension, with Feser in the role of the parent telling his child, “No, you can’t eat the entire bag of cookies. You may not realize it, but it’s bad for you. Trust me.”

Unfortunately, he fails to explain why the sorts of sex acts he doesn’t like are bad for you. He just says that they’re not in line with what nature intended. He also repeats his earlier mistake, of thinking that there are only two possibilities: either everything has an Aristotelian final cause, or nothing does.

But lest you think that he’s simply a prude who doesn’t want anyone having fun in bed, he magnanimously concedes that there’s more to sex than merely delivering sperm to a vagina;

All sorts of lovemaking might precede this. It does mean, though, that every sexual act has as its natural culmination [dare I say “climax”? — arensb], its proximate final cause, ejaculation into the vagina, and that the man and woman involved in such an act cannot act in a way to prevent this result, nor act to prevent the overall process from having conception as an outcome, whether or not that outcome is what they have in mind in performing the act, and whether or not that outcome would be likely to occur anyway even in the absence of their interference. It also means, partly for reasons evident from the foregoing, that they may indulge in this act, in a way that is consistent with its procreative final cause or natural end (understood in the broad sense of not only generating children but also rearing them, with the need for stability that that entails), only if they are married to one another.

</MoralScold>

In other words, blowjobs are immoral. Hand jobs are immoral. Frottage is immoral. Hell, go to your favorite porn site, click on “categories”, and cross out everything except “creampie”.

Feser’s moral code is remarkable in that it seems to take little or no account of what a person wants; it places a fairly low value on personal freedom. You shouldn’t use your sex organs just for fun because someone else designed them for reproduction:

Nature has set for us certain ends, and the natural law enjoins on us the pursuit of those end. [p. 147]

It’s also remarkable how many hoops he’s willing to jump through to justify doing the things he likes, while condemning the things he doesn’t like: on one hand, he considers slavery to be immoral, as we all do. But Aristotle, on whose ideas he basis his moral system, endorsed “natural slavery”. He gerrymanders his way out of this dilemma the same way that so many apologists do, by saying that slavery as endorsed by Aristotle (or Old Testament Hebrews, in the case of other apologists) was very different from that practiced in the antebellum south. In other words, it’s not intrinsically wrong to own another human being as property; it’s just that Americans did it wrong. (See p. 147 and endnote 9.) Ditto polygamy, which permeates the Bible, on p. 151.

If the penis is meant for ejaculation, and you’re only supposed to use organs for their intended use, then that would make peeing immoral. He gets around this by saying that the penis is designed for both ejaculation and urination, and that it’s only immoral to act against one of these functions (for instance, I’m guessing, by having a vasectomy). But then, that would imply that it’s not immoral to, say, have oral, non-procreative sex with your partner, as long as you retain the ability to have procreative sex at some other time. (I’m guessing that similar reasoning allows him to use his ears and nose to hold up his glasses without having to say penance.)

It’s also not immoral, he tells us (p. 148) for a sterile couple to marry, as long as their sex always ends with semen in a vagina. And no kinky stuff!

Finally, we get to his opinion on gay marriage:

The $64 question in recent years, of course, is: “Does natural law theory entail that homosexuals can’t marry?” […] they can marry someone of the opposite sex. What they can’t do is marry each other, no more than a heterosexual could marry someone of the same sex, and no more than a person could “marry” a goldfish, or a can of motor oil, or his own left foot. For the metaphysics underlying natural law theory entails that marriage is, not by human definition, but as an objective metaphysical fact determined by its final cause, inherently procreative, and thus inherently heterosexual. There is no such thing as “same-sex marriage” any more than there are round squares. Indeed, there is really no such thing as “sex” outside the context of sexual intercourse between a man and woman. Sodomy (whether homosexual or heterosexual) no more counts as “sex” than puking up a Quarter Pounder counts as eating; […] For if “same-sex marriage” is not contrary to nature, than [sic] nothing is; [p. 149]

In other words, reproduction involves sex, so Feser decrees that nothing you do with your genitals aside from trying to conceive counts as sex, and further defines marriage as being for sex. And this definition must on no account be changed! In short, Feser has come up with a rationale to pretend that his prejudices and opinions are objective facts.

There’s a bright side to the above: if nothing other than semen-in-vagina counts as sex, and if pornography is a depiction of sex acts, then nothing outside of the aforementioned “Creampie” category counts as sex, and whatever you masturbate to ouside of that category isn’t pornography.

Series: The Last Superstition

Adam and Bobo?

Anti-gay-rights activists, when they’re not busy being worried about all the buttsecks going on without them, are fond of pointing out that God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. Clearly, men are supposed to fuck women, not other men.

Except, remember why God made Eve in the first place?:

18 The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

19 Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.

20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found.

<p .21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh.

22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

In other words, Eve was Plan B. The original idea, apparently, was for Adam to stick his dick in one or more of the animals. Literally get some pussy, if you will.

So I don’t see why the homophobes are so upset at the thought of two dudes getting it on. At least they’re dating inside their own species.

QOTD

This may be my favorite bit from the Prop 8 ruling yet (findings of law, p. 128):

To the extent California has an interest in encouraging
sexual activity to occur within marriage (a debatable proposition
in light of Lawrence, 539 US at 571) the evidence shows Proposition
8 to be detrimental to that interest. Because of Proposition 8,
same-sex couples are not permitted to engage in sexual activity
within marriage. FF 53. Domestic partnerships, in which sexual
activity is apparently expected, are separate from marriage and
thus codify California’s encouragement of non-marital sexual
activity. Cal Fam Code §§ 297-299.6. To the extent proponents
seek to encourage a norm that sexual activity occur within marriage
to ensure that reproduction occur within stable households,
Proposition 8 discourages that norm because it requires some sexual
activity and child-bearing and child-rearing to occur outside
marriage.

Ooh, that’s gotta sting. “We tried to have sex and raise children within the bonds of holy matrimony, like you said we should, but you wouldn’t let us!”

Would you like your ass of fundie well done, or extra-crispy?

Boobquake vs. Feminism

For those who hadn’t heard, some idiot Muslim cleric said the other day that “women who do not dress modestly” cause earthquakes. So Jen McCreight, aka Blag Hag decided to test this proposition scientifically. This became known as Boobquake. There was much tittering on the intertubes, and it quickly became more popular than any of the myriad thoughtful posts she’d written up til then.

But it also apparently raised the ire of feminists, on the grounds that encouraging women to show cleavage promotes the objectification of women. Okay, I can see that as being a valid concern.

Now, I like to think of myself as a feminist, in the sense of someone who thinks women should be equal to men in most situations. So of course I’m opposed to seeing women as nothing more than sex objects.

However, there’s a difference between not being merely a sex object; and not being a sex object at all. I have friends who are fantastic cooks, and I’d be a fool to turn down a dinner invitation from them. But that doesn’t mean they’re merely cooks, that they aren’t fully-rounded people. And it certainly doesn’t mean that I can just expect them to cook for me whenever I want, or that if I walk by when they’re cooking, that it’s somehow acceptable or even expected that I’ll be so overcome with hunger that I’ll be unable to resist stealing their lunch.

Having said this, I don’t deny that sexism is still a problem in the US (where, after all, “she was asking for it, dressed the way she was” is still a credible excuse for rape in some circles). But we’re still light years ahead from the sort of society where women are expected to be covered head to toe lest the sight of an unclad earlobe send a man into an involuntary libidinous frenzy or, worse yet, challenge his assumed superiority in all things, including control of women’s bodies. And that alone makes Boobquake a worthwhile poke in the eye to more repressive societies.

But I’m not going to tell anyone to participate in Boobquake who doesn’t want to. That’s an individual decision. But in the final analysis, the whole thing is a bit of fun, albeit with a serious underlying message. And if you can’t have fun with sex, you probably have other problems.

Rites of Passage

Presumably your education, like mine, included a discussion of rites
of passage. That your teacher discussed various cultures’ rituals,
along with a discussion of how our western culture also has rites of
passage: graduation, driver’s license, and so forth.

Now, maybe I’m slow, but it only recently occurred to me what function
these rites play in the life of a person, and society at large: they
mark transitions between one chapter and the next: switching from
child to adult, from bachelor to husband, from prince to king.

These are the points where the rules change. In most societies,
children are allowed to spend the day playing; adults are expected to
plow the fields or mend fishing nets. Children are allowed to run and
hide when raiders attack the village; adults are expected to help
defend it. Single people can quit their job and wander the world for a
year; family heads are expected to stay home and provide for their
families.

From a society’s point of view, this makes sense: someone has to plow
the fields, someone has to defend the children, someone has to make
policy decisions, and so forth. If there’s a role for everyone and
everyone does their part, society works.

This also means that ceremonies like first communion or bar mitzvahs
aren’t really rites of passage in today’s society: a thirteen-year-old
Jew may say that he is a man as part of the ceremony, but in practice,
he’ll go back to the same school the next day as he did the day
before, and stay there for several more years, until he goes off to
college.

Modern western society has similar chapter transitions: going off to
college, when you learn to live on your own without daily support from
your parents; marriage, when your plans become inextricably linked
with another person’s; learning to drive, when you are expected to
wield half a ton of steel without killing anyone. And so forth.

Chapter transitions also make sense for the individual, since they get
rid of a lot of possible ambiguity. You don’t have to figure out when
and how to transition from your child role to your adult role, or from
your carefree bachelor role to your breadwinner role. The change is
abrupt, and marked by a memorable ceremony. It often comes at a
predetermined time (like puberty) or is planned long in advance (like
marriage), so you have time to get ready for the transition.

Of course, in today’s American society (and in other countries as
well, I’m sure, but I’m most familiar with the US), a lot of
traditional rule changes have been blurred: people live with their SOs
for years — including having sex, raising children, and buying a
house — without getting married. Many offices allow you to wear
the same jeans and T-shirts as you wore throughout college (although
you’re encouraged to launder them more than once a semester).
Thirtysomethings play the same online games as teenagers do. A lot of
the hard rules of earlier societies have become optional.

By no means am I suggesting that we should return to a more rigid
society. I happen to like playing video games. And if you don’t live
with someone for a while, how can you tell whether you’ll be happy
married to that person, or whether your sexual tastes are aligned? And
some of the most impressive Lego structures are built by people far
older than the age on the box.

But I think it’s worth looking forward to upcoming life changes and
figuring out who you can and want to be before and after. Do you want
to gallivant around India for a year? It’s probably best to do that
before you settle into a steady job. Do you want to join a startup or
start your own business? Consider that it’ll probably mean long hours
for a few years, and you may go broke. So you probably don’t want to
bet the kids’ college fund on it. And speaking of kids, if you’re
raising any, you may want to consider what sorts of chapter
transitions they’ll be going through as well, and plan for those as
well.

Consider, too, how to commemorate the event. Ideally this should be
something unique, memorable, and pleasant. By the time you retire,
you’ve probably seen enough office parties that they all start to blur
together. So go to Acapulco or Greece for a week to mark the occasion.
If you’re lucky, you’ll only be married once, so don’t just run down
to the registrar’s office and sign a marriage license; go all out and
have a bash to remember. And assuming that circumstances permit and
all parties are cool with it, you may even want to lose your virginity
the day you get your driver’s license, commemorating a new phase in
responsibility with an eminently memorable experience.

Indian Stupid Burns Like a Hyderabadi Biryani

First, the Telegraph has a
story
about an Indian nun’s book about sex in the church:

The book by the former nun reveals how as a young novice she was propositioned in the confession box by a priest who cited biblical references to “divine kisses”. Later she was cornered by a lesbian nun at a college where they were teaching. “She would come to my bed in the night and do lewd acts and I could not stop her,” she claims.

When she was sent to Bangalore to stay with a priest known for his piety, he lectured her about the need for “physical love” and later assaulted her.

To steal a line from
Monty Python,
“may I take this opportunity of emphasizing that there is no sex in the Catholic Church. Absolutely none, and when I say none, I mean there is a certain amount, more than we are prepared to admit”.

The article concludes with a spokesman who dismisses the nun’s claims:

“How far what she says is well-founded I
can’t say, but the issues are not very serious. We’re living with
human beings in a community and she should realise this is part of
human life
,” he told the Daily Telegraph.

(emphasis added.)

Oh, the irony! If the Catholic church would only realize that yes, sex
is part of human life, and would allow its priests and nuns to get
laid every once in a while, maybe there’d be less of this sort of
thing, to say nothing of child abuse.

(Cue BillDo in 3… 2… 1…)


The second item concerns an
op-ed piece
that appeared in
The Statesman in India.

The piece by Johann Hari argues that while people deserve respect,
ideas don’t. And that a recent UN resolution to avoid criticizing
religion has the effect of shielding human-rights abusers.

He and his editor have since been
arrested
for “hurting the religious feelings” of Muslims. You can’t make this
stuff up.

The Statesman’s
letters page
includes a letter entitled “Denigrating Islam”. Among other things, it
replies to Hari’s original contention that

I don’t respect the idea that we should follow a
“Prophet” who at the age of 53 had sex with a nine-year old girl, and
ordered the murder of whole villages of Jews because they wouldn’t
follow him.

with

Hari has made some vulgar remarks about the marriage of the Prophet with young Aisha, which incensed and hurt many readers of The Statesman. Muslims regard the pious wives of the Prophet as their mothers and hold them in high esteem.

Aisha, was not 9 but 10 years of age when she was married to the
Prophet, but came to live with the Prophet much later. It was after
attaining puberty when she was more than 15 years of age. Following
the Arab custom at that time, her father Abu Bakr, the first caliph of
Islam, proposed this marriage to cement his close relationship with
the Prophet.

Oh, so instead of a 53-year-old man fucking a 9-year-old, it was
actually a 58-year-old fucking a 15-year-old. I guess that’s supposed
to make it all right.

I’ve heard Christian apologists make similar excuses for the Old
Testament atrocities (e.g., by saying that Leviticus sets rules on
what you can and can’t do to a slave; which presumably makes it okay
to own human beings as chattel). I’m sure the fact that their Muslim
counterparts use similar arguments says something profound about the
ecumenical brotherhood of man or something. I can’t help imagining a
crowd of Christian and Muslim fanatics hand in hand with torches and
rakes, singing Kumbaya while marching to punish the heretics who would
disrespect their imaginary BFFs.

Tuberophilia?

From the Telegraph:
Vicar went to hospital with potato stuck in bottom“.

A & E nurse Trudi Watson, of Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital, said: “He explained to me, quite sincerely, he had been hanging curtains naked in the kitchen when he fell backwards on to the kitchen table and on to a potato.

Look, if anal stimulation is your thing, at least invest in a quality
butt-plug from a reputable dealer. It might save you a trip to the
emergency room.

And while there are a lot of things that can be done in the nude, I
don’t think hanging curtains is one of them: there’s that whole
standing on a stepladder in front of an uncurtained window thing.

Religion and Sex

Evangelicals like to tell us that sex should take place within the confines of marriage, and only for purposes of procreation. But in fact, the situation is much more complex. In his book Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe (1987), James A. Brundage compiled a list of various restrictions on sex from religious sources, and put them together in this handy flowchart (click to embiggen):
Flowchart

(Thanks to for the pointer.)

The GOP Is Getting Predictable

EDGE Boston gives us the setup:

[Richard] Curtis, elected to the [Washington] state House three years ago, voted in the spring against a measure to provide domestic partnerships to gays and lesbians.

In 2006, Curtis came out against an anti-discrimination bill to protect GLBT people from being discriminated against on the basis of their sexuality.

I’m sure you can guess the punchline. Check your answer below the fold. Continue reading “The GOP Is Getting Predictable”