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Can't Anyone Tell Me Why?
Why are homosexual acts wrong? I am a Christian and believe very much in the Bible, but this part of it always stumps me.
Dear Professor Theophilus:
Okay, I don't know if this is the right place to send a letter like this, but I'm at wits' end! I've asked pastors, friends, parents, God, and message boards this question, and still haven't gotten an intelligent answer that I can live with. Why are homosexual acts wrong? I am a Christian and believe very much in the Bible, but this part of it always stumps me.
The reasons why other sins are wrong are obvious. Murder, rape, adultery, theft — they all harm other people. But homosexual acts don't harm anyone. People say it’s not natural, but it occurs in nature among animals. People say gays can't procreate, but since when is sex even mostly about procreation? It's about love, intimacy, and pleasure, and gays can experience all of that. Also, what about people who are born sexually ambiguous? Who are they supposed to fall in love with? If you are born with the physical traits of both a male and a female are you gay no matter who you sleep with, or are you straight no matter who you sleep with? It just doesn't add up to me.
I don't believe in disregarding parts of the Bible that I don't agree with, so it's important to me that I settle this in my mind. If you can't help me, point me to someone who can! Thank you.
Don't blame the other people you've talked to for being unable to answer your questions. If we lived in normal times, it would be better not to discuss certain sins at all. Because we live in abnormal times, we have to. But it makes people uncomfortable to discuss them, so they never learn how to give good answers. Actually I've dealt with this topic pretty often; you can find what I've written about it before by using the SEARCH function, and at the end of this note I'll suggest another online article for you to read. In the meantime, I'd like you to reconsider your assumptions. I suspect that you've been listening to propaganda, because you're making some serious mistakes. Once those are cleared up, I think the answer to your question will jump out at you.
The meaning of the word “natural.” Our nature is how God designed us, so what's "natural" for human beings isn't whatever you can find some animal doing; it's whatever fulfills our design. Men and women were plainly designed for each other — not men for men, nor women for women.
What harms whom. The idea that homosexual acts don't harm anybody isn't even close to being true; they harm those who commit them at every level, physical, emotional, and spiritual. To begin with the most obvious — the physical — how could it not harm a man to suffer rectal trauma because a large object has been repeatedly forced into an opening which was designed for a radically different function? Lesbian sex is no picnic either; the rate of syphilis among women who practice homosexual acts is nineteen times higher than the rate among women who don't.
Other levels of harm. At the emotional and spiritual levels, the damage of homosexual acts is less obvious but just as grave. Consider emotional harm. God designed the male-female pair to balance each other; by contrast, same-same mating drives the partners to extremes. Instead of balancing each other, they reinforce each other. If you want an example, think of the promiscuous tendencies of men in general. Unbalanced by women, these tendencies lead to the anonymous, no-brakes promiscuity of men who have sex with hundreds, even thousands, of other men. Now consider spiritual harm. In homosexual acts you're seeking union with someone who is only your own mirror image, so in a way, you're still trapped inside yourself. You haven't experienced the power of marital sex to take you beyond the Self; you're rejecting the challenge of union with someone who is really Other. In that way, homosexual acts are less like marital love than like masturbation with another body.
So-called ambiguous gender. Genetically, every child is either male or female. To say that a girl whose sexual organs resemble a boy's is part-boy is like saying that a baby whose arms resemble flippers is part-seal. She doesn't need to mate with other girls any more than he needs to eat raw fish. What she needs is restorative surgery, which usually corrects the problem.
How pleasure is related to sex. No, pleasure is not the purpose of sex. Of course sex is pleasurable (God made it that way), and it's right for a husband and wife to enjoy that pleasure (God intended that). But to say that pleasure is the purpose of sex — to say that it's why God invented sex — to say that it's what tells us when sex is right and when it's not — is quite another matter. You see, you can get pleasure from misusing God's gifts as well as from using them properly. If pleasure were the purpose of eating, then whatever caused eating-pleasure would be good; we should do as some Romans were said to do at banquets, vomiting in order to eat some more. If pleasure were the purpose of sex, then whatever caused sex-pleasure would be good. Some people get sex-pleasure from kids, from corpses, or from physical pain and humiliation. Pleasure wouldn't justify those perversions, would it? Then why would it justify sodomy?
The first purpose of sex. The first purpose of sex is procreation — having children. To say that sex "isn't about" having babies is like saying that eating "isn't about" taking in nutrition. Besides, if sex isn't about having babies, how do you suppose that God did intend us to procreate? I'm not just talking about the fact that homosexual acts are sterile, although that's part of the problem. The procreative purpose of sex applies not only to bearing children, but to raising them. A child needs a Mom and a Dad — one of each. The second purpose of sex. The second purpose of sex is intimacy. You're right about that point, but only partly right. What you mean by intimacy is feeling close, and feelings aren't enough. An episode of the “Jerry Springer Show” featured a guest who claimed to have "married" her horse. I suppose she "felt close" to it, but when we say that the second purpose of sex is intimacy, that's not what we mean. Marital intimacy is the unique bond of self-giving brought about by the complementary union of husband and wife in a procreative partnership. They are "complementary" because each sex provides something missing from the makeup of the other. Two men do not complement each other, and neither do two women. They can have warm friendships, but sex doesn't improve these friendships; it only degrades them.
For Christians, sex has a third purpose too. You can read more about it in the article “What’s Good About Sex?.”
Have I answered your question? If you need to know more, read the next letter.
Grace and peace,
Right (though annoying)
Dear Professor Theophilus:
I am not a Christian, but I am writing to tell you that you are right, and I was wrong.
I am twenty years old, and since age thirteen I have been "lesbian-identified." What this means is that while I was never actually involved with a woman, I was fluent in the language of gay culture: I had gay friends, attended gay pride parades in San Francisco, and had a hidden but extensive library containing everything from the "classic" gay novels to lesbian "erotica" (read: pornography).
In the summer of 1999 two very important things happened. The first was that I lost my virginity to a man with the support and encouragement of my Christian mother, who thought it would "cure" me. (I kept my hands over my face the entire time, and I didn't feel particularly healthy afterward.) The second was that I became seriously ill. It turns out that these two events were not connected, though at first I feared they might be.
Afterward, I was bedridden for a year, and during that time I discovered your writing in Boundless. An emotional battle began that has lasted almost two years, and I am finally throwing in the towel. Why? Let me share with you three random events from my life:
When women want to cut off their female organs, when hurting each other with needles is considered a turn-on, and when promiscuous girls feel guilty about feeling guilty (as though they just aren't liberated enough), something has gone terribly, terribly awry. I have been a faithful reader of yours — I even own one of your books, Written on the Heart — and I've been hopping mad at you more times than I can count. The funny thing is, I keep coming back to your writing. I think it has to do with "what you can't not know." And I've always respected the fact that you would rather offend your readers than coddle them or compromise your message. The truth is surprisingly effective. Keep telling it, and I'll keep listening. I may even end up a Christian someday.
Thank you for writing. You don't have a question for me, but I couldn't let your letter go unanswered.
According to my faith, God cares more about a single soul than the rest of the universe — and it means more than the rest of the universe to me if, by His grace, my writing makes a difference to a single soul. I'm glad you're one of the souls to which it has made a difference. Though I understand that you aren't a Christian, I hope you won't be offended if I pray for you. My prayer is that some day soon, you too will be willing to meet this God of amazing mercies who has healing in His wings.
Grace and peace,
Murmurs of the heart
Dear Professor Theophilus:
My question is about “Tough Talking.”In your reply to Question 3, about homosexuality, you used the example of a heart murmur to explain that the mere fact that something is inborn doesn't make it good. I understand that, but God wouldn't call a heart murmur sinful, would he? I'd also like you to explain further, because people that I talk to seem to take it as a "given" that homosexuality is inborn, and you don't. Finally, do you think that there is a differentiation between having homosexual tendencies and committing homosexual acts?
Thanks, I've never been to your site before and it rocks. I've just finished my first semester, I've been sitting here reading through it, and it's answering heaps of my questions. I'll probably be a philosophy major, and I'm discovering how completely rational Christianity is — blaringly, compared with other theories and ideas. Anyway, this is an awesome tool for college students, and fully needed.
These are good questions. Let's take them one at a time.
Concerning whether homosexuality is inborn: It's true that many people take this as a "given," but that's mostly because of misleading propaganda; the scientific research doesn't support that conclusion. To see why not, take a look at the article “The Gay Gene.”
Concerning the distinction between homosexuality and homosexual acts: Homosexuality is an emotional disorder involving same-sex desires. One can suffer from homosexual desires without committing homosexual acts; it's a question of whether one will resist the temptation or give in to it.
Concerning the analogy of the heart murmur: No, a heart murmur isn't sinful; then again, the condition of suffering same-sex desires isn't sinful either. The sin lies in encouraging the desires or giving in to them. Perhaps a more helpful analogy would be alcoholism. There do seem to be certain genetic predisposing factors for alcoholism, but that doesn't make it right for a person who suffers from them to get drunk; self-control remains possible. In the same way, even if it did turn out that there were genetic predisposing factors for homosexuality (something for which there is no good evidence so far), that wouldn't make it right for a person who suffered from them to commit homosexual acts.
People aren't doing themselves any good by engaging in homosexual behavior anyway. Because it's contrary to our physical design, it leads to injury, disease, and early death. Because it's contrary to our emotional design, it destroys happiness. Because it's contrary to our spiritual design, it alienates us from God.
Grace and peace,
J. Budziszewski "Can't Anyone Tell Me Why? " Boundless 2003.
Reprinted with permission of J. Budziszewski.
J. Budziszewski (Boojee-shefski) earned his doctorate from Yale University in 1981. He teaches at the University of Texas in Austin, in the Departments of Government and Philosophy where he specializes in the relations among ethical theory, political theory, and Christian theology. The focus of his current research is natural law and moral self deception. J. Budziszewski is a former atheist, former political radical, former shipyard welder, and former lots of other things, including former young and former thin. He's been married for more than thirty years to his high school sweetheart, Sandra, and has two daughters. He loves teaching. He says he also loves contemporary music, but it turns out that he means "the contemporaries of Johann Sebastian Bach." He deserted his faith during college but returned to Christ a dozen years later and entered the Catholic Church at Easter 2004. Among a number of other books, he is the author of How to Stay Christian in College, What We Can't Not Know: A Guide, The Revenge of Conscience: Politics and the Fall of Man, and Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law. J. Budziszewski is on the advisory board of the Catholic Educator's Resource Center.
Copyright © 2003 J. Budziszewski. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.