Monday, May 15, 2006

On natural law, lying with animals & a well-tempered clericism

I tend to view the doctrines of an organized religion as having aggregated, survived and spread because the people who believe the doctrines want and succeed in making other people believe them, and because the set fosters cohesive productive societies such as can resist or crush other cohesive productive societies. Doctrines that don't bear repeating and/or don't foster cohesive productivity tend to drop from the set, whereas refinements of ideas that make them more attractive and/or strengthen a society tend to become integrated (this is just Dawkins' and/or Dennett's meme theory of religion, as I vaguely understand it). Ironically, I think in arguing "natural law" against homosexuality many Christian folk are reading from the same page as me on this. e.g. Being fruitful and multiplicative doesn't happen without copulation, both they and I hold, and same sex couples can't copulate. Therefore, to a first approximation homosexuality is socially counterproductive, and so it's only natural that society should discriminate (i.e. cognitively) between homosexuality and heterosexuality. Note this reasoning simply leaps from "copulation" to a conclusion about "sexuality," which I think it gets away with because we all accept people love the ones they're with...sexually. That's why you're not supposed to sleep with somebody on the first date, or to have sex before you are emotionally mature. The Bible could instruct the people in homosexual relationships to go forth and copulate with strangers on the side, just as our modern society encourages corporate polluters to buy carbon credits. But, as is I think the secret to its success, the Bible keeps it simple: “Do not lie with a male as with a woman, it is an abomination” the Bible says (Leviticus 18:22). To me, this modus operandi means that the proscription “Anyone lying with a beast shall certainly be put to death” (Exodus 22:19) should be read as applying to the ownership of pets. Pets substitute for human companionship (just ask the cat ladies), so to a first approximation pet ownership is socially counterproductive. Hence it seems to me pets ought to be anathema. Yet I wouldn't be surprised if a majority of U.S. and Canadian Christians in good standing live with companion animals in their homes (their "tents" as it were) and that many let these animals sleep in their beds. I suppose this doesn't contradict church doctrine, they might say, because the devil is in the details. This suits my beliefs as well: Pet ownership does fulfill a constructive social role, just as homosexual relationships fulfill a constructive social role. You just have to move beyond a first approximation.

Note: Duh, I'm not equating or even comparing partnerships between gay people and the relationships people have with their pets--except I guess to the extent I'm comparing pet companionship to human companionship generally.


SteveG said...

I think one has to be careful not to cofuse Jewish and Christian sexual ethics here.

The ancient Jews were a tribal people before the age of technology. Judaism is a non-evangelical religion -- it is literally a matter of being born into the tribe, they don't recruit. The only arms race back then was to produce as many human arms as possible. To insure that you could withstand attack by another tribe and continue on after the elders died, you needed to fire up the little Yiddle production line and siphering off product with another guy, a sheep, or spilling ones seed on the ground was counter-productive. The original intent of this part of the ancient social contract was purely pragmatic -- make more Jews!

The Christians, on the other hand, are an evangelical religion -- anyone in the neighborhood of a Jehova's Witness congregation will attest to that. They began recruiting back in Rome. When in rome do as the Romans do meant orgies, feasting and then visiting the vomitorium, watching lions tear people to death for fun... Early Christianity was a counter-point to Roman excess and where the Romans loved pleasure, the Christians preferred the suffering of Christ as a path to redemption. That's really where the "sex is fun," "fun is bad," therefore "sex is bad" thing comes from.

Now there is certainly a sophisticated strain of Christian theology that cherishes embodiment and the pleasures and joy that accompany it as gifts from the Divine, but those folks ain't the ones with the power in our contemporary dialogue.

Murky Thoughts said...

Point taken about Jews not evangelizing outside the tribe, but there's evangelizing within, so I see proto-Judaism as having to meet the criterion of communicability. Also, though I imagine you're right about the historical intentions you attribute to the inventors of Jewish vs Christian sex policy, they don't conflict with what I meant to be invoking, which is why doctrines and sets of doctrines survive and spread. Why I like sex has nothing to do with why I like sex, that is in the sense of the natural historical explanation for why I like sex, according to which you could have seen me coming from a million years, so to speak.

Murky Thoughts said...

Sorry for my emphasis on efficiently dispatching perceived quibbles. I appreciated the comment! And that's not just because I hardly get any.