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Problematic Premises

In response to John Haldane’s argumentum ad consummationem (“Against Erotic Entitlements,” April): Why shouldn’t it be made into a formally valid syllogism?

1. Determinants of human happiness should be consummated;

2. But sincere sexual attraction and love, whether chosen or not, are determinants of human happiness;

3. Therefore sincere sexual attraction and love, whether chosen or not, should be consummated.

Stephen Berardi
Inglewood, California

John Haldane replies:

There are many features relevant to the evaluation of arguments (clarity and economy, for example), but two formal properties are essential to reasoning: validity and soundness . An argument is valid if the conclusion follows from the premises, but sound only if those premises are also true.

In “Against Erotic Entitlements” I identified a pattern of reasoning undergirding the campaign for same-sex marriage: the argument from desire to its consummation. Stephen Berardi asks why it should not be rendered as a formally valid syllogism. Validity, however, was not the issue.

Rather, I noted, the reasoning was “uncritical in its use of choice, love, sentiment, and sincerity” and showed that the same form of argument could be used to support multi-partner and incestuous marriage”and I could have added multi-party incestuous marriage. Agreeing that these would be unacceptable most readers will have followed the implied inference that the argument is faulty. Since he makes no mention of these applications but proposes his version as valid, readers are entitled to ask whether Berardi would accept them.

Returning to the form of the argument itself, I said validity was not the issue, though a subtle mind might wonder whether the original and Berardi’s amended argument involve fallacies of equivocation on the notion of human happiness, which is certainly a slippery concept.

What of soundness? Are the premises true? “Determinants of human happiness” may be understood either as categories of factors conducive to happiness or as instances of those categories. Eating and social relationships are factors conducive to human happiness, but it does not follow that all eating and all relationships are benign or beneficial. Thus 1. needs to be elaborated to the effect that benign instances of determinants of happiness should be consummated. This, however, shifts attention to 2. and the idea that “sincere sexual attraction and love, whether chosen or not” are always benign or beneficial.

The question is whether certain forms of attraction and love may be intrinsically problematic. Some fetishists feel sincere sexual attraction towards inanimate objects, and others fixate on amputees for whom they romanticize their attraction, insisting their desire is loving. Some adults are attracted to children, some to geriatrics, and both may be sincere in their attraction and in the romanticization of it. Are these factors conducive to human happiness? To be sound the premises have to be true, but these premises are obviously problematic. I sincerely hope Berardi agrees.

Confessing Methodism

Thomas Oden’s “Do Not Rashly Tear Asunder” (April) altogether misses the gravity of the issues at hand tearing the church asunder. As he hearkens back to Wesley to support his position, so we can hearken back even further to the Reformation itself. Had Luther merely posted his ninety-five theses on the Wittenberg church door and hoped beyond hope to change the whole of Rome from “within,” as Oden suggests, we would not even be having this discussion from the perspective of conscientious “Protestants.”

The similarities between the original Reformation and the vitiation of mainline churches today are too numerous to develop, but the formal causes of each crisis comes down to the ultimate authority of holy Scripture. Just as the Reformation was not really about justification, so too the infestation of liberalism in today’s churches is not really about sexual equality or gender neutrality. It is an outright attack on the inerrancy and divine inspiration of Scripture.

Since Scripture is no longer given its rightful preeminence within their governmental structures, the hasty departure of the faithful is not only warranted but imperative.

Louis Cucci III
Orland, Illinois

Thomas Oden challenges those of us who have chosen to leave the Protestant mainline. I write as a former pastor of the mainline Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who is now a pastor in the non-mainline North American Lutheran Church. These denominational realignments indicate the persistent problem within Protestantism itself. We Protestants keep rending asunder the body of Christ.

The central problem is that Protestants have never been able to answer the question, “Who speaks for God?” True, most Protestants historically have said that God speaks for himself in the Bible. But who interprets the Bible?

Oden says that the problems in the Protestant mainline churches started when the clergy forsook their ordination vows to teach, preach, and live according to the Scriptures. However, if you talk to many of the clergy who support revising the traditional sexual teachings of the Church, they also point to the Bible. They quote the Bible and note that love of God and neighbor are the two great commandments and the heart of the Bible.

The problem is not simply that revisionists have forsaken their vows of ordination and forgotten the Bible. The problem is that revisionists have forgotten that they are part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

This forgetfulness is evident when pastors, theologians, and laity read the Bible against the Church.

To borrow from another article in First Things, Joseph Small’s “Presbyterianism’s Democratic Captivity” (March, 2012), the tacit implication in this debate is that there are only two options. There are the orthodox traditionalists and the prophetic revisionists.

There is another option we could call “prophetic orthodoxy.” This is, I believe, the position of the vast majority of Christians who revere the Bible and want to be faithful to the teachings of the great tradition of the Church catholic. These Christians also want to love, welcome, and understand their homosexual neighbors without violating the clear teachings of Scripture and Church. How we do this is the real question that deserves prayerful discussion.

Eric M. Riesen
Zion Lutheran Church,
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

I have a solution for the dilemma Thomas Oden finds himself facing. It happens to be outlined in another essay in the same issue, Thomas Guarino’s “Bridging the Tiber”: “ Anglicanorum Coetibus openly encourages those Anglicans and Episcopalians who have come into full communion with the Catholic Church to ‘maintain their liturgical, spiritual, and pastoral traditions . . . as a precious gift and treasure to be shared.’” If this has been accomplished for Anglicans, it might just as well be accomplished for Methodists, who are reformed Anglicans.

Oden would not need to abandon his Methodism, but merely move it into full communion with the Catholic Church, retaining the traditions of the Methodists in their liturgy and customs. As forty years of dialogue have shown (see Together in Holiness: 40 Years of Methodist and Roman Catholic Dialogue ) very little separates Methodism and the Vatican. Issues remaining to be resolved pertain to ordination and the Eucharist.

Methodist prayer and worship services are simpler, but perfectly orthodox from a Catholic viewpoint. With respect to female clergy, the Methodists will have to wait on this one. There must always be a give-and-take in reuniting. But there clearly can be a role for women as leaders of the worship service.

Catholics would welcome the gifts of the Methodists”their strong emphasis on the Word; the sermon; their Charles Wesley hymnody, filled as it is with solid doctrine and devotion; their commitment to training the laity for

leadership and preaching; their deep piety and drive to personal holiness.

This seems to be a good time to make the move. The dialogue work has been accomplished, the principle of authentic diversity and legitimate pluralism for achieving full communion has been set forth by Angelicanorum Coetibus. How great it would be to have Thomas Oden among our leadership.

Geoffrey F. Proud
Orient, New York

I wonder if faithful mainline Protestant Christians receive any encouragement from the experiences of the Orthodox faithful during periods of apostasy? I’m especially thinking of the Iconoclastic controversy perpetrated on the Church from within for several decades”and violently”throughout the eighth and ninth centuries. The Orthodox faithful did not leave but rather patiently endured marginalization, persecution, and martyrdom until faithfulness to the deposit of faith, especially the full implication of the Incarnation, was restored.

Tracey D. Edson
Portland, Oregon

As a Catholic, I was struck by the irony of Thomas Oden’s position. I find myself in agreement (at least mostly) with Wesley’s standards for “separating with cause” from the church of one’s baptism. What I find odd is that Oden, and indeed Wesley himself, seem to want to apply this merely as a method of stopping further division in the Body of Christ. But should the goal of the Christian community be simply to stop further division, or should it be to actively reunify all Christians around the teachings of Jesus Christ?

If the answer is active reunification, we might start by applying the Wesleyan standard historically. Did those first members of the Church of England, who rejected the authority of the pope and assented to the authority of the king, do so because the Catholic Church was forcing them to do something that God forbids or withholding them from doing something he positively commands? The answer is clearly no. Why should the modern-day Anglican or Methodist continue to live out the error of their spiritual ancestors?

Martin Bordelon
New Bern, North Carolina

As a United Methodist, I am grateful for Thomas Oden’s essay and his use of Wesley’s treatise On Schism as a gentle but firm call for restraint against hasty calls for separation within our denomination. Since the days of Bishop William R. Cannon and Albert C. Outler, Wesleyan scholars have argued that Wesley’s thought should be seen as standing within the catholic tradition. Indeed, Wesley’s On Schism reflects a fully Augustinian concern for the unity of the Church essential to our identity as the Body of Christ.

In City of God , Augustine says that God allows heretics in the Church to teach us three things: right doctrine, patience, and how to love our enemies. Earlier in his Homilies on I John , as he wrestles with the apparent contradiction between verse 1:8 (“If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us”) and 3.9 (“He who has been born from God does not sin”), he explains that while in this life some sin remains in all of us, nonetheless there is one particular sin that cannot exist among those who are born of God: acting contrary to charity.

The only sin that is unforgiveable is a failure to love that is manifest in cutting oneself off from one’s brothers and sisters. Grieved by the schism of the Donatists, he says that in separating from the Catholic Church they prove that they are not truly born of God, for “he who loves his brother tolerates everything for the sake of unity, because brotherly love exists in the unity of charity.”

Augustinian “toleration” is not moral latitudinarianism. It is an imitation of God’s love. God places us in the Church for no other purpose than to teach us how to love as God loves. Since God loves the world with a love that is patient and forbearing of our sins, so by living in communion with fellow sinners do we learn the patient and forbearing love of God. Schism is “against charity and against brotherly love” because it refuses to show our brothers the same patience we covet from God.

The irony of the Donatist schism and any schism that might take place over the issue of homosexuality is that it grows out of concern for the holiness of the Church. Yet in preferring to break the unity of the Church, the schismatics have severed the bond of charity that is the sine qua non of holiness.

For many of us, the idea of separation is tempting because we are tired of this quadrennial battle over homosexuality”a battle that wastes time and resources that could be more profitably spent in Christ’s service. We are tired and desire peace. But, if Augustine has taught us nothing else, he has reminded us that such peace is not to be enjoyed by the Church militant.

Our life in this age is characterized by vigilant struggle: a struggle to be patient in preserving the bonds of unity even with those whose practices are contrary to the Gospel. For such struggle, however relentless and wearing, is a spiritual discipline, and its goal is nothing short of perfecting us in love.

J. Warren Smith
Duke Divinity School
Durham, North Carolina

Thomas Oden replies:

I thank my thoughtful respondents. In any embittered battle among Christians the most needed virtues are humility, charity, patience, and a long view of history. Reform movements have a history of beginning with high ideals and ending with low outcomes. The Confessing Movement within the United Methodist Church seeks to exercise these virtues while encouraging Methodists to recover the classic Christian consensus, in the hope that the Spirit will further embody unity in God’s own time.

I am grateful to Tracey Edson for her insightful recollection that we can find encouragement from the persistence of the Orthodox believers who remained faithful during the fifty-seven schismatic years of the Iconoclastic controversy. They did not split. They stayed to correct. They were unwearied. The Spirit turned the hearts of the iconoclasts. This is what I commend for my dear friends in the Confessing Movement who threaten unnecessary and premature separation if they are defeated in a single legislative action that would be later amendable.

Similarly, I am grateful to Warren J. Smith for unpacking the crucial analogy between Augustine and the Donatists as a potential guide for understanding the relation between Wesley’s view of schism and the separatists in the faltering United Methodist Church today who see the answer as forming a new denomination.

My heart goes out to Eric Riesen and other Lutherans who have been forced by conscience to leave the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Those who stay to seek orthodox recovery risk collusion with rottenness, but those who leave risk further offending the unity of the one body of Christ. My conscience requires me to stay and struggle to correct. I respect the conscience of others who have chosen otherwise.

The Anglican and Methodist liturgy invites to the Lord’s Table those who “truly and earnestly repent of your sins and are in love and charity with your neighbors, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in His holy ways.” People who differ on sexual ethics are welcome at that table on the sober assumption that they have examined their own conscience in the presence of God regarding their intent to lead a new life and follow in God’s ways. Those who partake unworthily face the prospect of eventually dealing with God on the last day.

I concur with Louis Cucci that we do well to trace the evil of separation back to its source, but he identifies that source a bit too hastily as the Protestant Reformation. Why not trace the schismatic spirit, as I tried to do in Classic Christianity and The Rebirth of Orthodoxy , back to the earliest challenges to the apostolic tradition, to Marcionism, Gnosticism, Pelagianism, and Montanism? All were resisted by the classical Christian consensus which has survived by grace to this day. I applaud any attempts to rediscover and embody that classic apostolic consensus.

I agree with Mark Bordelon that the task is not simply to stop further division, but actively to seek to reconcile the separated brethren. But he fails to note that this is exactly what John Wesley both taught and did in his societies of spiritual formation for holy living. Wesley reached out for Roman Catholics so much so that he was considered a “papist” by some of his critics.

Geoffrey F. Proud is right to look toward Anglicanorum Coetibus as a potential model for bringing orthodox United Methodists into a fuller expression of the one body of Christ. I hope this might develop further, and I welcome future steps. Wesley also longed for this spirit of peace among the people in his spiritual connection, as seen in his irenic “Letter to a Roman Catholic.”

Within Protestantism there are two conflicting ecclesiological memories: a history of dissent, a brave and noble tradition epitomized by words like purist and dissenter , and a history of consent, epitomized by Anglicans and Methodists, who within confessional boundaries seek to manifest the unity of the body through charity and patience. Wesley belonged to the latter tradition but sought to renew it, and so do I. In the battle over sexual ethics, both of those memories are tested. The former splits. The latter seeks reconciliation despite deep differences.

The traditions of consent depend heavily upon the faithful leadership of the episkopoi and the presbuteroi . We earnestly pray for faithful bishops to lead the way in scriptural teaching of the doctrine of holy matrimony. Scriptural teaching is what the bishops are ordained to do. They have forgotten the terms of their consecration. They have failed. Wesley grasped that failure in his time, but sought patiently to renew it from within. But within the next twenty years, faithful bishops will arise, likely out of Africa, who will regain the momentum for reconciliation.

Bourgeois steps

Without calling into question Reinhard Hütter’s insights concerning the relation of spiritual malaise and the use of pornography (“Pornography and Acedia,” April), I think he goes astray to write that “temperance . . . has nothing whatsoever in common with some bourgeois, lukewarm moderation in matters of food and drink” and, by implication, in matters concerning sex. Aquinas, whom he cites as an authority, defines temperance as specifically concerned with bodily desires for food, drink, and sex, calling it the least of the cardinal virtues precisely because it is concerned with ordering the body. Aquinas mentions a general spiritual chastity, but he doesn’t say its practice must come before chastity proper, as Hütter argues, only that it can be understood on analogy.

Sneer at the bourgeois virtues if you will, but Aquinas follows Aristotle in defining virtues as habits that are formed by right practice. The bourgeois might be concerned with action and appearance, not spiritual depth, but the Aristotelian and the Thomist respect these as real steps on the way to virtue; they are not ultimately sufficient for beatitude, but neither will virtue be achieved without self-discipline, the bourgeois’s trump. And not to descend into sordid and graphic detail, but it should probably also be noted that most pornography users are not engaging only their sense of sight.

All this matters, I think, because the legal case for the suppression of obscene pornography in a free society cannot rest on spiritual crisis and the need for confraternal prayer, but on the social costs of the use of pornography, its observable damage to marriages, to families, to women, to children, and to the users themselves who are caught in its web. Increasingly, psychology and social science are coming to see that sexual health can be damaged by the use of porn, as physical health can be harmed by addictive substances, and that the libertarian assumption that porn is harmless entertainment freely chosen and freely abandoned does not account for empirical fact.

Hütter does a service to remind us that the underlying cause of the social harm is spiritual failure, that true chastity can hardly be sustained without earnest prayer, and that communities of faith sustain a moral way of life. But let us not neglect the surface things: finding ways to keep pornography from being so readily available via respectable internet carriers, and ways to restore to pornography its bad name and thus attach some shame to its use.

James Stoner
Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

James Stoner was one of the editors of The Social Costs of Pornography (Witherspoon Institute).

Evolutionary Muslims

James Hannam’s assessment of Muslim positions on evolution (“Evolution and Islam,” April) concludes with a condescending and under-informed expression of hope, that “as Muslims become more influenced by Western thought, they will adopt the Christian view of God’s relationship to nature.” He reaches this conclusion through an account of modern Muslims’ rejection of theories of evolution, an account that opens on a scene of Muslim truancy from university biology classes and proceeds to Muslim death threats against imams who publicly affirm evolution.

However much they attempt to prove the scientific accuracy of the Qur’an, it would appear Muslims remain caught by the taboos generated by the “literalistic way so many mainstream Muslims read their scriptures.” This account of Muslims’ blind fidelity counterposed to the enlightened Christian view, however, suffers on three counts.

It lacks historical appreciation for the way evolution debates in the Muslim world have unfolded, between European-educated modernizers on the one hand and traditionalist religious scholars on the other, each with little (if any) training in the other’s fields and none in the philosophy of science. These debates, introduced in the colonial era, have never been simply about whether to accept a scientific theory, but are rather bound to broader political questions about the future of the Muslim world.

Contemporary Islamic perspectives on cosmological and biological origins are not limited to facile attempts to disprove evolution, as with the example of Harun Yahya, nor superficial accounts to prove the scientific veracity of the Qur’an by the standards of modern science, as with Maurice Bucaille. In either case contextualizing their work in this broader historical context would help the reader understand their undeserved popularity among Muslims.

Second, Hannam betrays a lack of philosophical appreciation for the sophistication of the kalam “atomism” that he refers to in the final paragraph: A more nuanced reading of such science reveals not the Islamic God simply being more “hands-on” than the Christian one but a remarkable (and theologically orthodox) synthesis and reworking of Aristotelian themes.

Finally, any allusion to the work done over the past few decades to provincialize the natural sciences would have helped move the article away from a discussion of benighted Muslims refusing the virtues of theistic evolution toward a more expansive conversation to which Muslims and Christians could both contribute.

Basit K. Iqbal
Toronto, Ontario

James Hannam replies:

I have a lot of sympathy for Basit Iqbal. Christians have a similar problem: The media are obsessed with creationism to the exclusion of all other aspects of the relationship between evolution and theology. The fact that Professor Ken Miller, who testified at the trial in Dover on intelligent design, is both a Darwinist and a Catholic is still treated as the most interesting thing about him. That said, the inability of Muslims as well as Christians to accept evolution is a serious concern. We should meet this challenge head-on.

Iqbal raises the historical context of the debate among Muslims over evolution. There is no overarching authority in Islam able to adjudicate the religious response to new questions such as evolution. Instead, theological development is supposed to advance through consensus of the ulama or religious scholars. But such consensus is elusive. This has always been the case and means that Islam has often supported antithetical schools of thought, a situation that perhaps has contributed to the richness of Islamic tradition. Nonetheless, in as much as there is consensus, at the least, it rejects human evolution and supports the special creation of Adam directly by Allah.

Likewise, the tracts of Harun Yahya and the work of Maurice Bucaille may not deserve their popularity, but popular they most certainly are. And the subtleties of kalam “atomism” are surely lost on the average Muslim in the street. This situation may not be ideal, but it is where we find ourselves.

The position with respect to Islamic creationism and its Christian equivalent is different in at least one essential respect. Iqbal would agree that the pen is the only acceptable weapon in debate. Unfortunately, a small but significant group of Muslims believe that violence and the threat of violence can legitimately be used against those with whom they disagree on religious matters. Christians spent many centuries learning in the most painful way that this must never be the case.

As I related in my article, Usama Hasan was put in an untenable position when he attempted to show that evolution and Islam need not be incompatible. Philosophical sophistication and historical context are all very well, but the priority must be to ensure that theological differences can be resolved peacefully.

Progressive Principles

I am concerned by R. R. Reno’s misogynistic and racist tones in his article “Relativism’s Moral Mission” (April). As a young professor he witnessed an example of John Rawls’ belief that, faced with “incalculable moral and political evil for civilized life everywhere,” we ought to occasionally abandon our moral “absolutes” to save morality. Rawls defended the saturation bombing of Nazi Germany. What example did Reno observe? “The supposedly dire circumstances of an overly white and male faculty were sufficient to justify various supreme emergency exemptions so as to reach the goal of more women and minorities [becoming faculty].”

I do not think his analogy holds. The Rawls example violates a moral absolute: “There are never situations or circumstances in which one can justifiably kill the innocent.” There is no moral absolute in Reno’s example unless he believes “There are never circumstances in which one must hire a woman or minority” to be a moral absolute, which he might. He clearly does not think that having an overly white and male faculty is problematic.

Reno then criticizes the Obama administration’s refusal “to exempt all religious organizations from the general requirement to buy insurance policies that provide contraceptive coverage” as a willingness “to subsidize the sexual choices of middle-class American women.” He says that if a woman has a job that provides health care, she is middle-class, which is false. I imagine that the administration intended the coverage to protect primarily lower-class women who are disproportionately of color.

Reno says that the cost of contraception is equal to ten or twelve lattes a month. What about women who cannot afford one latte a month? If Reno is against the Obama administration’s contraception policy, he should argue his point from religious and political grounds, not from patriarchal assumptions.

Jason Myers
Lodi, New Jersey

R. R. Reno replies:

Misogynistic and racist tones? Patriarchal assumptions? I find myself almost nostalgic for my academic youth.

It does not follow that because I had (and still have) moral objections to hiring job candidates because of their race and sex, I therefore must have thought it just fine that most professors a generation ago were white and male. By the same reasoning, Fr. John Ford, S.J., who wrote courageously against our saturation bombing in Europe during World War II, must have thought a Nazi victory no big deal, which is of course absurd.

The fallacy is transparent, and it’s common among progressives. They identify dire circumstances”consequences of past discrimination, for example, or the consequences of sexual freedom”and then invoke something like the “supreme emergency exemption.” Yes, yes, we should not discriminate on the basis of race and sex”except when we must. We should protect innocent life”except when we can’t. Then, if anyone says, “Wait a minute, we’re not authorized to suspend moral principles,” they’re denounced as a racist and misogynist.

As I said, almost nostalgic, but only almost.