Sunday, June 18, 2006

St. Paul's Argument From Nature Against [Active] Homosexuality (Romans 1)

By Dave Armstrong (1998)

Romans 1:26-27:

[26] For this reason God gave them over to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged the natural sexual relations for unnatural ones, [27] and likewise the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed in their passions for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

St. Paul mentions "dishonorable passions." To what does he refer? The next word "for" implies that what follows is an example of what Paul calls "dishonorable." So what does he present as an example?:

For their women exchanged the natural sexual relations for unnatural ones,
Paul is saying, then, that there is such a thing as "natural sexual relations" and its contrary, "unnatural [sexual relations]." This brings it down to the matter of natural law and God's created order, and all that that entails. Some things are natural, some are not.

So far, I have merely followed the syntactical and grammatical logic of the passage (at least in its translation). I don't think anything I have stated thus far could be argued differently, regardless of one's stance on homosexuality. What follows in the next verse is clearly related to what came before it:

and likewise the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed in their passions for one another.
This is very clear-cut. The "likewise" and the "also" inescapably imply that the men, too, have abandoned "natural relations" for "unnatural ones" (since it is an analogy). In other words, the contrast is between natural and unnatural, and also between heterosexual and homosexual sex. Paul is not merely saying that the "inflamed passions" are what is sinful, but the very concept and practice of homosexual relations, which goes against nature. The documented medical consequences of engaging in such unnatural and unhealthy sexual practices bear this out.

Since it is "unnatural" for men to be (sexually) with men, and women with women, according to the Apostle (and God, since the Bible is God-breathed), he describes the sexual acts as "shameless" and "error." There is no qualification here for things like rape or promiscuity or uncommitted, manipulative sex (that is the desperate eisegesis of those who already believe the Bible is neutral on the issue - itself an absurd proposition, in my opinion).

St. Paul makes an argument from nature. He is saying that the very notion of homosexuality is disordered and unnatural. Perhaps his phrase "received in themselves the due penalty for their error" refers to the medical and physiological consequences of these abnormal acts, but that is just speculation on my part.

There were plenty of negative repercussions for health with regard to sodomy before AIDS came around. AIDS is just one more confirmation that unnatural sex is physically dangerous (we know, e.g., that AIDS spread rapidly in Africa even among heterosexuals. Why? Because heterosexual anal sex is prevalent among many Africans - hence the spread of the disease). Sin is always dangerous. God tries to spare us of its consequences, but we are too dense and rebellious to accept Him at His word, and we insist on playing with fire, defying even nature itself, if need be.

Romans 1:18-32 is an argument from nature, a sort of primitive teleological argument (or, argument from design). He implies sins against nature in 1:24: ". . . the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves" (RSV). Idolatry is condemned in 1:25: ". . . they . . . worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator . . ." In my opinion, immoral sex amounts to a worship of the physical body as an object apart from the whole person who possesses it, and in defiance of the lifelong commitment within which moral sex is protected and placed in the proper context of whole love relationships with whole people (not just genitals), for a whole lifetime.

St. Paul makes a similar argument from nature (but a bit more sophisticated and theological) in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, by stating that excessive appetite for sex (and also food?) amounts to being "enslaved" (6:12). He exclaims:

Do you not know that he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, 'The two shall become one flesh.' (6:16; RSV)
In other words, there is an ontological, created reality and natural order beyond mere physical pleasure, which must not be violated. Certain things are wrong by their very nature. Sex outside of marriage - whether heterosexual or homosexual - belongs in that category. Paul continues:

Shun immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the immoral man sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (6:18-20)
So heterosexual fornication and adultery are just as sinful, wicked, reprehensible, and unnatural as homosexual sex. These sexual sins violate the bounds of proper sex between males and females as God intended it: within a lifelong monogamous commitment of marriage. The same physical act which is right and proper and beautiful in one situation (in a marriage) becomes sinful in another (with a prostitute, or with one other than one's spouse). Homosexuality also violates this boundary but it goes a step further and violates the created order of sex itself, which God intended for male and female (and I think this is self-evident in the complementary physiology of the reproductive organs, and in the end result of conception).

One might say that fornication is an "ontological" sin against the moral "concept" of marriage, while homosexual sex sins both against the purpose of sex and the ontological, metaphysical, and spiritual (even physical) nature of sex itself. The next logical step is bestiality. The move has already been made from opposite sex and procreation to same sex and pleasure-only. In so doing, God's laws and natural law are spurned and scorned. So why not make the move to an animal, if the purpose is simply pleasure?

On the other hand, Paul seems to teach that all forms of sexual immorality are a sin against nature and against the Holy Spirit within us. Something bad actually happens in the very real spiritual realm. We become joined with the harlot. We sin against ourselves and our own bodies as well. We violate the temple of God (ourselves, if we are Christians, since the Holy Spirit indwells us).

Various versions of Romans 1:26-27 show us exactly what St. Paul is teaching (in reference to women and men, respectively). He compares and contrasts the natural, moral sexual act, with the unnatural, immoral act:

1) Phillips:

"normal practices of sexual intercourse" . . .  "something which is abnormal and unnatural"

"natural intercourse with women" . . .  "lustful passions for one another"

2) Jerusalem:

"natural intercourse" . . .  "unnatural practices"

"natural intercourse" . . .  "consumed with passion for each other"

3) New English Bible / Revised English Bible:

"natural intercourse" . . .  "unnatural [intercourse]"

"natural relations with women" . . .  "burn with lust for one another"

4) King James (Authorized) / New King James Version

"natural use" . . .  "that which is against nature"

"natural use of the woman" . . .  "burned in their lust one toward another"

5) Revised Standard Version

"natural relations" . . .  "unnatural [relations]"

"natural relations". . .  "consumed with passion for one another"

6) New Revised Standard Version

"natural intercourse" . . .  "unnatural [intercourse]"

"natural intercourse with women" . . .  "consumed with passion for one another"

7) New American Standard

"natural function" . . .  "that which is unnatural" [note: "Lit., 'against nature'"]

"natural function of the woman" . . .  "burned in their desire toward one another"

8) William Barclay

God therefore allowed them to go their own way, until they ended up as victims of their own dishonourable passions. Their women substituted unnatural intercourse with each other for natural intercourse with men. In the same way, men abandoned natural intercourse with women, and were inflamed with passion for each other. Men perpetrated shameless things with men, and brought on themselves the inevitable consequences which such misguided conduct was bound to bring. (1:26-27)
I don't see how this could be any clearer than it is. The assertion by radical homosexual exegetes that us traditional-types are distorting the Bible's teaching (whether it is inspired and preserved properly or not) and not presenting it properly, out of alleged "homophobic" motives, is groundless. The Bible, as it reads, is indisputably opposed to homosexual acts as a sin against nature, God, and one's own body. And it is all there right in Romans 1:26-27, as just shown - both lesbian sex and male homosexual sex are condemned as immoral as well as unnatural.


En Seikou said...

2 Corinthians 11:7-9, 13-16
7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.
13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God

Shall we then undo the doings of Women’s Liberation then? Or decree legal and illegal hairdoes? All in the name of "natural law", or rather tradition?

yoonzena said...

Finally a more or less comprehensive explanation, thank you! Technical question though. Suppose I'm not Christian, St Paul holds no authority over me, I am fully aware that God will put me in Hell no matter what, it wouldn't make much difference if I were a lesbian, right?

Dave Armstrong said...

God judges each person by what they know (and do). I think we all inherently know that sexual sin (outside of marriage) is wrong, until we give into it and it overtakes us and changes our judgment.

It's all explained in Romans 1 or 2. If you believe there is such a thing as hell, why in the world would you want to end up there? You either believe it exists or not.

If it does, there is also a God Who can give you or anyone the grace and power to overcome any sin that would cause you to end up damned for eternity.

It comes down, then, to the question of whether God exists, what He demands, and what He is like.

I'm here to proclaim that God is Love: He will save anyone who comes to Him and is willing to follow His commands and devote their lives to Him.

Sin will never make anyone happy or joyful or fulfilled in the long run.

Homosexual inclination or orientation, however (just like heterosexual desire), is not sinful in and of itself, as long as it is not acted upon.

maximus said...

Well said Dave. What you say was common knowledge among rational, civilized people for two millennia and yet today to utter such words of clarity and sanity is to be called homophobic or reactionary. As H.H. Pope Benedict XVI emphasized repeatedly, Christianity is a religion of reason.

Turning to the complaint of En Seikou: The point St. Paul is making here is that women are naturally possessed of sensual beauty. They have been made that way to attract the opposite sex. Hence in every sane civilization women have dressed modestly and covered up. Is it not inappropriate that a woman enter a church or temple to pray flaunting her sensual beauty? Of course it is. There is a time and a place for everything. That is the meaning of religion. And to be religious is to seek to discern what is appropriate behaviour in any given situation.

Thank you Dave!

Dave Armstrong said...

Thanks so much for your comment. I appreciate it.

Contentious said...

Maximus, if "women are naturally possessed of sensual beauty ... to attract the opposite sex" then how come not all of them are lesbians attracting each other? This is not a joke. Lesbian feminists seriously argue that enforced heterosexuality and the myth of romantic love are the key means for patriarchy to dominate women and make them dependent on men.

In my own opinion, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder", not something objective. Otherwise, how could any woman be attracted to men who, according to you, are uglier than her?

You missed Saint Paul's point and mine in quoting him. Pauline Christianity is a religion made by straight males like him to serve the interests of straight males like you, by naturalizing your desires and denaturalizing other people's. He himself says that woman and men are inherently unequal because women came from men, i.e., they're secondary. I think no woman possessed of any self-respect would accept your brand of Christianity.

Dave Armstrong said...

Paul doesn't teach inequality of the sexes. To the contrary, he states,

Galatians 3:27-28 (RSV) For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. [28] There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

The Bible teaches gender role differentiation, but not inequality.

But of course, that is a far too sublime, profound concept for our secular, "PC" society to grasp.

Contentious said...

Dave, sublimity is great, but then you have people like Maximus, trying to draw rules for everyday behaviour straight from the Bible. And then the only possible reading is clear: men have the right to dictate behaviour and dress codes to women (read the burka, bans on abortion or whatever applies to specific religions, countries and eras). I wouldn't call that 'equality'.

Moreover, he himself acknowledged that his own arguments about nature didn't persuade even himself, so that his only reason was worldly tradition or 'because I say so': If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice-nor do the churches of God.

Dave Armstrong said...

How is it "equality" to murder your own child in the womb? That has nothing to do with "equality" and everything to do with sin and selfishness and complete irresponsibility for one's free actions.

Contentious said...

Equality has nothing to do with individual moral judgements, either mine or yours. Equality is not just proclaming "you're all equal" like Saint Paul does without putting that principle to facts. Equality is a goal of political life and is about letting people decide by themselves on things that affect them. If men like you could get pregnant like women, then passing bans on abortion by simple majorities would be fine and fair, but in our real world whenever men have a saying on women's bodies and turn them into incubators, then there can't be equality.

Inequality is even more visible in an institution like the Catholic Church where women are explicitly excluded from priesthood. Then you have an entirely male body deciding what good women should be. There's the same contradiction in celibate men dictating what sex life within marriage should be like or whether divorce should be legal. Again, the issue here is democratic representation, not morality.

Finally, bans on gay marriage too are based on inequality to an even clearer degree. There's inequality when majorities set life conditions for minorities.

Do you dislike this idea of equality? Well, it only shows that religion and politics should be kept separate because they have completely different principles, which is something that many Christians seem unable to understand. Unfortunately for them religion is all about dictating to other people what they're allowed to do. This Christian Sharia has no place whatsoever in our modern world. You cannot win over people to your religion through laws and legal enforcements, but through moral arguments.

And by the way, appealing to nature is not a moral argument. With that you could justify murder just as well, like the Nazis did. Nature completely ignores human morality.

Contentious said...

I forgot to mention: notice that Saint Paul proclaimed religious equality not just between men and women, but also between free people and slaves. Yet in practice that only meant that women and slaves could take part in Christian sacraments. It took more than 1800 years for the Church to decide that slavery as an institution was politically unacceptable. That shows to what degree religion and politics can be kept separate when that suits the ruling classes.