Catholic Voter Guide

September 08, 2004

Amy Sullivan at the Washington Monthly has a very good eye for religion and politics.

Today she points us to the Catholic Voter Guide - a set of policy questions that test the extent to which your policy views align with those of the Council of Catholic Bishops, George W. Bush, and John Kerry.

I was not surprised to see that I align more closely with Kerry than with the Bishops, and that I disagree with Dubya pretty much across the board.

I should not have been surprised to see the strong emphasis on social justice and respect for individuals in the quiz questions, but I was.

I got low scores for "supporting the family" because, well, I believe that marriage is a long-term committment between two individuals, that society as a whole has a stake in building and preserving strong marriages, and that humans are flawed, make mistakes, and do need to be able to end broken marriages.

As I read the research: humans are hard-wired for serial monogamy with some level of cheating; children do best when raised in a stable, loving, environment with two parents; increased life expectancy has means that divorce has replaced death as the primary cause of broken and blended families; children do best in traditional male-female families, almost as well in same-sex families, fairly poorly in single-parent families, and badly on their own.

But, I disagree with the Thomist logic that the Catholic Church uses to parse matters of sexuality.

I am neither philosopher nor theologian, so I will probably mangle this explanation.

St. Thomas Aquinus proposed that people measure human choices and options by measuring them against God's desires. His knowledge of God came not solely from scripture but also from nature; like many folks he read the book of nature and the books of revelation as complementary texts.

As a practical matter, that means that Catholics tend to look at matters of sexuality and ask "what is natural?" "what did God intend by making (or causing evolution to make) things this way?"

Thus you will find a Catholic argument against anal sex based on the notion that the vagina is self-lubricating, thick-walled, and heals quickly while the anus is fragile - clearly one was intended for intercours, the other for elimination, and never shall they trade their "natural" roles.

This approach, with a healthy taste of St. Paul's prudery, shapes their broader approach to sexuality. The Thomists argue that the primary purpose of sex is procreation. Any enjoyment or pleasure that comes with sexuality is there merely as an encouragement to procreate. All forms of non-procreative sex - basically anything but PiV without protection - are thus a bad thing and should be discouraged.

I am willing to work with them on the whole "what is natural" argument, but I start from a position I first found in Aristotle. He asks how do humans differ from animals? His answer focuses on the fact that humans make things - to be human is to create - a position that Karl Marx picked up on while making his own arguments about alienated labor.

Turning to sexuality and nature, I ask how does human sexuality differ from animal sexuality? Most mammals only have intercourse during estrus; that is the only time the women are interested. (Dogs humping each other are engaged in dominance negotiations, a different set of rituals.) Humans are always ready for intercourse but only sometimes fertile. That suggests that the "natural" purpose of human sexuality is not merely procreation. So what is it?

Drawing on Ghandi, I argue that sex ties into our emotions. The purpose of sex is love - the physical act and the intimacy that comes with it are an encouragement and a reward for emotional intimacy. Thus where the Catholics will argue that non-procreative sex is sinful, I argue that non-loving sex is sinful.

This difference has policy implications. Rather than treating marriage as an arrangement for transferring property from one generation to the next, or as a little commonwealth that provides a miniature model of the state, or as an instrument for raising children, I would treat it as an institution designed to create and preserve lasting bonds between loving individuals. If you have those, then the children will follow, one way or another.

So, if I wanted to strenghten the institution of marriage I would not limit access to the institution to people with mixed plumbing; I would limit access to the institution to people who were making a serious committment. Perhaps we should bring back the mandatory delay between engagement and formal marriage - no more Vegas or Gatlinburg instant marriages.

But what about children out of wedlock? How do we encourage single parents - often kids who think that it is cool to spawn a pack o kids and turn them loose like baby turtles - to settle down with a helpmeet?

The intrusive state solution would be to mandate that everyone receive long-lasting contraceptive implants at puberty. If you have crotch hair, you get a Norplant (or a male equivalent, not yet invented.) They could only be removed by married individuals who present a letter signed by BOTH members of the couple. That is a level of intrusion into private life that even the Peoples' Republic of China would not accept; it carries un-measured health risks; it would be bad policy. What else?

The most likely what else is to continue the current U.S. policy of bribing people to get married, increasing the bribe if they have kids. Or, to put it in other terms, to engage in transfer payments from single and child-less people to married people with kids. We would have to alter the current AFDC and turn it from support for single moms to support for single moms and poor couples; we would have to engage in a cultural teaching moment to remind folks that 10 minutes with the town clerk is JUST as binding as a day with 300 of your closest friends, a big white dress, an open bar, and a feast; we would have to revise the laws on adoption and parental rights to give a preference to married parents, and to give step-parents legal rights and connections with the children that they raise; it would be a big set of changes.

But, that would defend marriage in a far more meaningful sense than either telling same-sex couples that they are not allowed or telling people that once you say "I do" you can enver say "whoops, re-do."

Take the quiz, how do you stand?

Posted by Red Ted at September 8, 2004 08:28 AM | TrackBack

I am: Bishops first, Kerry second, and Bush is all negatives. I'm not sure what to think, regarding siding most with the Bishops. Perhaps it is my Episcopalian background showing through?

I also received low scores in Promoting Family, for similar reasons as you stated.

In about 11th grade, I thought your Norplant idea was Fantastic. If it *was* implemented, I wonder what that would do to our population, which is already only increasing because of immigration.

I do think Birth Control (the Norplant variety; condoms aren't good enough) should be *free* to whomever wants it. Not 'low-cost' or whatever Planned Parenthood charges... but Free.

Posted by: KJ at September 9, 2004 12:17 AM

KJ [Insult removed] Bishops "first"? That makes a lot of sense when you go against Church teaching on everything else.

A Catholic is obligated to vote for Bush base on life issues alone.

Edited for politeness by RT, Sept 12, 2004

Posted by: John at September 12, 2004 08:19 AM


Attack the position; respect the person. That is a basic rule of civilized debate and you will be banned if you break it again.

Secondly, are you arguing that the Catholic Church's position on unborn life is more important than the Catholic Church's positions on the rest of the life cycle? Bush and the Republicans have pursued policies that go against church teachings on life and individual promise, but because they oppose abortion they get a free ride? I disagree.

Posted by: Ted K at September 13, 2004 10:05 AM

Goodness, John. *That* was worth an insult? It was so benign! I hate to see what happens when someone writes something Really inflammatory.

In any case, as I am not Roman Catholic, I don't mind so much that I go 'against church teachings.' It's not *my* church to go against. In fact, I'm in agreement with my church's stances on the subject, so that really oughta be okay.

How'd you know how I answered on 'everything else,' anyway?

Posted by: KJ at September 13, 2004 01:57 PM
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