Boy Scouts

My favorite of Russell Kirk’s many books always has been Enemies of the Permanent ThingsThis wonderful, at times ironic, volume is a collection of social commentary, hopeful reminders of work still being done by important thinkers, and biting criticism. The book signals its central theme in its subtitle, “Observations of Abnormity in Literature and Politics.”

Like much of Kirk’s best work, Enemies is an exploration of social norms and their disintegration in modern public life. “Abnormity” refers to the abnormal, which also can be taken as the irregular, or even the monstrous. The nature of Kirk’s concern guarantees disinterest from elite and even mainstream readers because it focuses on the objective good (“permanent things”) and how it is being rejected. Other than in purely clinical settings, where, for example, an abnormality on an x-ray may indicate disease, we do not like talking or hearing things called “abnormal” these days. We certainly do not want to think about something “abnormal” as monstrous. But our very desire to avoid reasoned consideration of abnormity and its consequences is yet another sign of our having too much of both.

In addition to the monstrous politically motivated evils of genocide and tyranny, modern literature also is full of the monstrous. What is missing is the capacity and will to judge day-to-day behavior as either good or bad. Our judgment is impaired to the point of disappearance because ny considered juxtaposition of abnormity with the normal is difficult to fathom in contemporary society. Normality, to most moderns, means the average, the typical, the common, and the boring. It is, in short, something to be avoided. In such terms even the monstrous may be seen as “unique,” “misunderstood,” or merely useful commentary on the faults of the “normal,” taken as the boring, conventional average.

This is not to say that there is no longer a demand that people conform. Few make more stringent demands for conformity than the mavens of “nonconformist” political correctness. And, after all, social life is, well, social—be it at the church, the “fair trade” co-op, or the gaming console. Even or perhaps especially those who see themselves living “beyond” accepted standards of good and evil follow, impose, and uphold social standards of some kind.  The question, then, is not whether but what kind of “normal” one will seek to be.

Properly understood, normal does not mean merely the common or average.  It refers to a norm—an authoritative standard, a “principle of right action” according to Webster’s, that by its nature intends to guide us in our conduct. Every subculture in the world has its own principles of what it considers right action, from the Boy Scout Oath (now sadly empty words even for that organization) to liberal demands for “sensitive” language usage. What Kirk’s juxtaposition of the Permanent Things with abnormity points out is that a proper norm is not merely whatever standard happens to exist within some subculture, but an authoritative standard rooted in the nature of existence.

My purpose, here, is not to provide a review of Kirk’s book—it is good, go buy it. Rather, my purpose is to examine one of the central causes of our culture wars, namely that where some people believe norms are what we make of them, others believe that they are, by nature, something more. Traditional conservatives do not seek to preserve traditional norms simply because they are “ours”—though their having been ours for a long time is a sign that they probably have much good to be said about them. Conservatives seek to preserve norms because they are in an important sense objectively right. Sound arrogant? Sound like a claim to god-like knowledge that a group would use to impose their views on the rest of us? Of course it does, to modern ears. Such a view rests on the conviction that we cannot merely “choose” what is good; we may, in fact, choose to call good what is evil (reproductive “choice” comes to mind, here). And such choices have consequences for both our souls and our societies.

Appeal to objective standards of good and evil in regard to everyday conduct is rejected as preachy at best and more likely a sign of the desire to tyrannize over others. This is so, not because anyone who seeks to uphold proper norms does so out of a lust for power, but because the very notion that we have a duty to uphold common standards goes against an essential liberal myth:  that society can be “neutral” in its treatment of basic moral choices, punishing only actions that clearly harm innocents (with certain exceptions, of course) while allowing us to create our own “lifestyles.” We have become so accustomed to the view that norms are “mere” custom, and that tradition is merely customary, that we have forgotten the relationship between the historical and the permanent. As Kirk explains, permanent goods like beauty do not exist in this world as mere abstractions; they are made concrete in actual objects (such as Michelangelo’s Pieta). In the same way, truth exists in our truth-tellings. And virtue, the permanent good of right character, exists in conduct that follows the right standards of conduct.

What are those “right standards?”  There is the rub. Virtues as diverse as justice and generosity depend in part on circumstance and history. It would not be just to return a borrowed gun to the lender at a time when he was not in his right mind because of the potential danger he would pose to himself and others. And cultures impose differing standards regarding the proper level or type of generosity depending in part on the level of scarcity they face (for example, some emphasize the duties of guests, and some the duties of hosts).

These variations lead all too many people to believe that norms are merely commands that we can and should change at will to meet current needs. But, while our practice of permanent norms can and should take circumstances into account, the norms themselves are permanent and beyond choice. They also are fundamental to our society and even to our existence as decent persons. Thus, to establish a new norm that celebrates the monstrous in art is to degrade art and with it our society. And to “redefine” social norms regarding such fundamental institutions as the family and the church is to degrade us all in pursuit of an acceptance that cannot be given without destroying the source of norms itself.

Redefinition of the family began with a humane justification—to end disadvantages placed on children of unwed parents and recognize the breakdown of certain marriages so that the former spouses might move on with their lives. Redefinition of the church (that is, of its role as an organizing institution for public life) began with the desire to establish public peace and the right of all persons to follow their consciences in determining how best to worship God. These reforms could be seen in Burkean terms as the elimination of abuses and the fostering of a society of mutual affection better able to provide for personal and common virtues.

But somewhere along the way (much earlier than most of us would like to think) moderns began to believe that family and religion themselves were individual choices which should be defended against any public norm save the vaguest, most insipid and harmless call to “love” and to “do the best we can” (without, that is, too much effort or suffering). Society increasingly is seen as a collection of individuals following their own desires, requiring a state that prevents violence, insures against bad consequences, and prevents any person or institution from “imposing values” on anyone else. This is the source of contemporary doctrines of “non-traditional” families and of “separation of church and state.” No authoritative standards are to be allowed where choices of family and faith are concerned, and this is seen as maximizing individual liberty and, of course, reducing all kinds of unpleasantness, preachiness, and attempts to “force” one’s own norms on other people.

But, of course, public life is not neutral. A public school that wishes to have a wall “separating church and state” will punish students who dare express their faith on “neutral” public grounds. As all but the most willfully blind recognize, the school quickly descends into hostility toward religious expression and a fostering of anti-religious rhetoric and sentiment as the wall must be built ever higher and guarded ever more closely to prevent “invasions” from people of faith. As a result, the beliefs and habits spawned and maintained by religious faith and tradition atrophy and even come into disrepute among the increasing number of people subject to the delusion that one can have a sane, moral public life without common norms rooted in a common understanding of the order of existence. The faithful become the outcast, and religious norms disintegrate, to be replaced by the false, thin, and empty norms of individual autonomy and liberal ideology.

And the family? It becomes merely one social unit among others the state may or may not take into account in dispensing benefits.  The natural family (husband, wife, and their children) becomes just one possibility, with no special status, as individuals seek to couple in whatever ways give them pleasure and receive public recognition and support for their choices.

The problem with our loss of a norm where the family is concerned is not just that, increasingly, families fail to form, or conform to the norm. It is that we lose our understanding of the central purpose of the family, which is to raise children to be virtuous adults.  And, having lost our understanding of this purpose to society’s most fundamental institution, we altogether lose our understanding of what it means to form children into virtuous adults.

Virtue itself is no longer recognized as a permanent good, now being seen as merely “normal.” And we all want, apparently, a “new normal” that is, well, whatever we want it to be at the moment. As a result, our society more and more sees children as a burden to be indoctrinated into autonomous self-sufficiency as quickly as possible so that we will not have to tend to their needs—by staying married, foregoing personal enrichment, or even keeping smut off the television during certain hours of the day.

No longer recognizing our duty to form children’s character to fit the norms of virtue, we instead see them as mere small adults, who need no special protections against adult society. Now even the Boy Scouts, for so many decades dedicated to forming virtuous young men, sees itself as just another organization for leisure activities, in which the sexual conduct of its members is to be taken as irrelevant. After all, does one have to be straight, or religious, to camp, or tie knots?

Of course not. Only if groups like the Scouts have as their purpose the formation of virtuous young men do such things matter.  And only if young men’s virtue includes not engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage does the issue of homosexuality matter. So, of course, today’s Scouts see no problem (or at least admit to seeing no problem) with practicing homosexuals participating in Scouting.

There remains, for now (and it will be a brief time) a ban on openly gay scoutmasters as a sop to traditionalist fear of sexual predation.  But the core of the Scouts is now gone. And what is most sad is the extent to which this picture of youth organizations as just another recreational outlet, devoted to a virtue that rejects traditional religious and family values, truly is the “new normal.”

When the scouts’ decision was made, it was trumpeted in the mainstream media. I happened to look through the Fox News homepage that day to see what kind of coverage it would provide. The answer is essentially none. An AP story, largely laudatory, ran as a minor headline for a couple of hours, then disappeared. Apparently “conservative” opinion leaders have decided to maintain their commitment to the mantra of abnormal societies everywhere—put money in thy pocket, and again put money in thy pocket. With material well-being as the only goal, potentially divisive social issues that might cause dissension because some of us are foolish enough to see them as important, must be buried.

And with such concerns virtue itself is buried. And the new normal makes all of us, in one way or another, monstrous.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore

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15 replies to this post
  1. There is a far deeper problem of the objectivity of evil and applied intolerance here. There is a saying amongst Catholics, likely true and grounded in theology (though I am ignorant of it) that the Devil flees from Holy Water. We might express this in more modern terms thus: Evil cannot tolerate Good.

    Why is it that homosexuals who enjoyed or were attracted to scouting did not just form “The Gay Scouts”? Or, why did they not form “The Hetero-Friendly” Gay Scouts? Why was it absolutely necessary for there to be NO purely Heterosexual Boy Scouts?

    For that matter, why are all-Black universities tolerable, but all White Universities unacceptable? Why are Gay Clubs allowed to discriminate against women, but it is unthinkable to open a straight club that turns away homosexuals after asking them their sexual orientation?

    The older I get, the sadder I become because it dawns on me that the abnormal elements if our culture are not liberal. They do not strive for equal tolerance, which is just a ruse so that they can establish a political legitamicy that otherwise would be denied to them. Their real goal is a radical transformation of society in the image of Evil. Evil, mind you, having a permanent home in this imperfect world, having so many guises, has a much easier time of it. Unlike Good, Evil need not be consistent.

    This is why the gays could not let the Boy Scouts be. This is why they could not even apply a “don’t ask don’t tell” policy. Because theirs is a politics of transformative identity. You can have whatever identity you want – so long as it doesn’t lead you to being a happy, self sufficient man with a wife and kids. A collection of such people might just make a republic without victim groups.

    This is also why I am not bothered by the emptiness of Western Catholic Churches. At least, unlike do many Protestant Churches, the Catholic Church cannot be changed by the simple fact that a majority of its parishoners happen to go mad. At worse, they will go away. Contrary to modern dogma, this will not marginalize the remnant by making congregations less diverse, it will just mean that only serious people will stay and together pursue the permanent things (which are not homogenous, but also not relative or merely subjective).

    Does this mean society as a whole is breaking down into islands of different beliefs? Sadly yes, but so long as islands can be distinct, all is not lost. Too bad the Boy Scouts just got consumed by the Borg that has been transforming all other social bodies into Gay Clubs.

  2. Dr. Frohnen: Since it’s been well established that you and I don’t see eye to eye on this issue, I’ll just make a couple of observations, which I’ll preface by thanking you for at least acknowledging the “humane intentions” of people who approach the topics of “family” and “norms” differently than you do.

    That said: you write that “our society more and more sees children as a burden to be indoctrinated into autonomous self-sufficiency as quickly as possible so that we will not have to tend to their needs”. That seems to fly in the face of historical evidence; childhood and adolescence today are much prolonged beyond what they used to be, when children were expected to contribute to the family economy as early as possible. In ages past, children worked full-time (often in factories or in mines) by their mid-teens at the latest, and were often sent away from home to be apprenticed before they were even as old as ten. In comparison, you may have missed the stories over the past decade about the legions of young adults still living at home into their late twenties; you may also have missed the part of Obamacare that allows young adults (to the age of 26) to be covered by their parents’ health insurance, which hardly indicates a desire to hurry our youth into “autonomous self-sufficiency”. Millions of parents who are helping put their kids through college would also be puzzled by your notion that we no longer want to “tend to [our children’s] needs.”

    You also write that “only if young men’s virtue includes not engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage does the issue of homosexuality matter.” What a neat trap you’ve constructed: if sexual activity outside of marriage is illegitimate and immoral, and if homosexuals aren’t allowed to marry, then their sexual activity will by definition be illegitimate and immoral, and thus a matter of concern for the Boy Scouts. Whereas, if homosexuals could marry, then gay Boy Scouts could receive the same training in virtue (including sexual virtue) as their heterosexual brothers.

    I understand your logic–homosexuals can’t marry, not because you don’t want them to, but because marriage is by definition between one man and one woman, and homosexual couples just don’t qualify. I wonder what else homosexuals are to be denied by virtue of their abnormal predisposition: marriage, of course, and membership in the Boy Scouts, and teaching positions, and the priesthood, and maybe political office (politicians are supposed to be role models), and perhaps even entrance into heaven. Perhaps sometime you’d be kind enough to provide us with the extended list of prohibitions and restrictions.

    As for your conclusion: the “new normal” may or may not work out, but there were plenty of problems with the old normal as well, and much that could be called, one way or another, “monstrous”.

  3. Mr. Shifflett, there is a flaw in your logic:

    Homosexuals are not denied anything. They have the same right to establish a Scouting organization as anyone else. Instead of establishing their own Scouting Organization, they infiltrated, propagandized and ultimately convinced a majority of decision makers in the traditional Scouts to change the rules regarding homosexuals.

    In a free society, those who believe that – amongst other things – Scouting exists to form moral virtues, a part of which is the notion of abstinence outside of marriage – would be able to create a Scouting organization which shares these views.

    If I go to a Steak House and complain that their menu discriminates against my vegetarian values, or because there are no Chicken McNuggets in the Menu (ergo – something is excluded) – no one would agree that my human rights are being violated by the exclusion. The restaurant owners can put whatever they want in the menu. I can patronize them or not.

    Yet suddenly, according to the Homosexual lobby (which, by the way, eroniously lay claim to represent all homosexuals, much like the NAACP lays claim to represent all blacks when in fact it does not), the law is to be changed in such a way as to force religious institutions or other social institutions to admit homosexuals even if this would run counter to their beliefs.

    Who, then, is being intolerant here?

    While I think, for a large number of reasons, that John Stuart Mill’s teachings in On Liberty regarding tolerance are limited in their practical application and desirability, they are in a sense – or were up to a certain time – a sort of consensus view in Western societies – a last resort: when we the People were so unable to come to agreement about fundamentals, it was understood that we ought to at least tolerate our differences and let different people associate and organize as they see fit, so long as the equal rights of others to the same were not violated.

    Strangely, this liberalism is now attacked as bigoted by those who see no place for disagreement about the definition of marriage, religion, or virtue. All organizations must conform to the Gender Ideology mindset.

    The real problem is the psychological instability of homosexuals and sexually traumatized men. Many homosexuals are actually in heterosexual marriages or feel great stigmata due to their biological condition (which was, until recently, treated as a medical condition). They are full of resentment towards the institutions of normal society and wish to gain access to them – thus their push for forced recognition – even if at the cost of transforming those institutions into something unrecognizable.

    Yet to say such a thing is now called “homophobic”. The biological fact, however, does remain that homosexuality is a biological abnormality that is caused by genetic factors resulting in a disordering of the human sexual identity. These cases, like other cases of mental or biological disorder are tragic and require medical and psychological care – not to “cure” them (which cannot be done to biological homosexuality), but to manage them, like you manage any other long term biological disability.

    There are many homosexuals who are quite capable of managing in life without having to join the Boy Scouts, become Priests and father children through IVF. They have no interest in destroying society, and are quite content to love and befriend members of the same sex without then running round demanding that everyone agree that they are “married.” The issue of access to federal tax and health benefits or other legal benefits (even benefits such a access to Greencards, as I recently saw on a CNN report about a gay man complaining that DOMA meant his British partner could not get a greencard) is a totally seperate issue. The tax law itself is discriminatory in every single way. A low flat tax, or any number of other limited government approaches, including no income taxes, would do away with this problem. Abolishing Obamacare and letting people be free to choose their private healthcare would also do away with the “access to benefits for homosexuals” problem.

    Of course, the Gender Ideologues, pretending to speak for all homosexuals, are really an extension of the invasive radical ideology that would have the state take power over all of us. One of the best ways to do this is to break up the family and the local community because they are the pillars of self-government. Since families are by definition heterosexual, then promoting homsexuality is something which helps those who would grow the power of the State.

    For really, the percentage of people born biologically homosexual is miniscule. But man is a maleable animal, and children can be taught homosexuality, bisexuality, poligamy etc etc. And that is what this movement seeks to do. It seeks to have the Boy Scouts not simply “tolerate” homosexuals in their midst – but ultimately make boys into homosexuals – eventually. This is what is happening in France, where the law allows homosexuals to have children through IVF. This will lead to a society – in 20 to 30 years – that will be unrecognizable. Boys and girls will simply never have any mothers and fathers and everybody will grow up effectively an alienated single child, wholly dependent on the state for education and livelihood, with warped sexual orientations.

    Everyone, that is, save the Muslims who, by that time, will likely be the majority of French society – so there is some hope for humankind- ironically – in the Muslim populations of Western Europe (though not for France. which by that time will be effectively lost). It is still within the power of Western countries to restore themselves – but just as broken families and single parent homes are now the norm and make it very hard to rear responsible, independent citizens – it will be impossible when people find it “normal” to say “I never met mum and dad, I live with Fred and John and am attracted to Steve – although I might change my mind about that if the fancy hits me.”

  4. Peter: I have to admit, you’ve given this a lot more thought than I have. Despite the flaws in my logic–you’re right, I would have no right to complain about not getting Italian food at a Chinese restaurant–I’m sticking to the simple principle of inclusion: why should homosexuals have to form their own Boy Scouts, any more than African-Americans should have had to use separate drinking fountains and restrooms? To me, the term “Boy Scout” means that it’s an organization for boys: not for heterosexual boys, or Christian boys, or white boys–just boys who want to be part of what the Boy Scouts practice and teach.

    “Boys and girls will simply never have any mothers and fathers and everybody will grow up effectively an alienated single child, wholly dependent on the state for education and livelihood, with warped sexual orientations.”

    I think that is unlikely. Actually, I think it’s ridiculous. In the end, this whole tussle boils down to the fact that some people see homosexuality as unnatural and an abomination–or, to use your kinder, gentler terminology, a “long-term biological disability”–and also as a threat, and others of us don’t. Human beings are no doubt malleable to an extent (though I thought conservatives believed in some sort of unchangeable human nature?), but not to the extent you suggest. I don’t know about you,but I wasn’t taught to be heterosexual, and I seriously doubt I could have been taught to be homosexual (though one person in my life certainly tried). However, I have been taught to be tolerant and to stop judging other people’s ways of finding both love and sexual satisfaction with other consenting adults.

    It strikes me as odd that Christians who hail God as the Creator can so easily dismiss certain other people as mere biological aberrations or abnormalities, and not (apparently) God’s responsibility (much less his intention) at all. Maybe God created a certain percentage of people homosexual in order to keep the population down? If all this is such a big deal, you’d think God would have included a prohibition of this shocking, disgusting perversion in the Ten Commandments: would it have been that much trouble to add an eleventh–“Thou Shalt Not Commit Homosexuality”? Actually, he could have included that with “Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery”…yet he didn’t. Maybe he foresaw that there would be no shortage of people willing and eager to add that on for him?

  5. Mr. Schifflett,

    The voters who amended the Boy Scouts principles certainly agree with you, as is their right. Still, I fear people have not thought out the consequences of what they are doing. One reason for this lack if thought is that there is a prejudice afoot that opposition to the gay agenda is based on bigotry, and that only a bigot can be opposed. This makes debate impossible. Every philosophical proposition ought to be debated and challenged in a liberal democracy – yet this one is not allowed a serious challenge.

    Please read the interview with France’s newly minted gay marriage: they want children and say they will raise those children with the right values. These eventual children will not have one father and one mother who love eachother as role models. They will be raised in an environment where sexual identity is unclear, and where love is not a moral duty, but a sentimental choice. Genetically, these children will have a higher chance of being gay. As a matter of nurture, they will likely be bisexual and have no sense of what a proper relation with the opposite sex looks like.

    We are looking at the potential radical transformation of human society due to the combination of IVF and gay marriage – we shall have a society where the broken family will be the legally sanctioned norm. Given that today, broken families account for so much pathology, crime and failure – do we really think a society of gay test tube babies with no mothers and fathers from households where changing sex partners are the norm and sexual pleasure is absolutely divorced from procreative duty and pride, will make for a good society of self reliant, responsible adults? Look what we have now – these ills will multiply. Raising ladies and gentlemen (like Rousseau’s Emile and Sophie) will be rendered impossible.

    As for your theological points: the 5th Commandment binds us to honor our Father and Mother. This implies God willed the identification of the ideal towards which humans should strive as being a heterosexual marriage, not a homosexual one. The gay agenda reverses the progress made by centuries of Christian teaching which refined this implied principle in the Decalogue and turned it into the notion of a loving, life long union between men and women.

    The gay agenda will reverse man’s spiritual evolution. We will return to a pre-spiritualized society wherein familial ties, if they exist at all, will be based more purely on instinct rather than rational will and a rational recognition of duties resulting from love and sex.

    This is already happening now because of the failure of heterosexuals to live up to the ideal of marriage. Rather than seek to repair this damage, tye West us giving up and succumbing to the whims of the the gay agenda.

  6. Mr. Schifflett:

    “I wonder what else homosexuals are to be denied by virtue of their abnormal predisposition”

    This assumes that “homosexuality” can be reified into an immutable charactaristic of an individual, rather than being some set of actions which an individual – predisposed or not – can participate in, or not. But this if far from shown. Furthermore, it assumes that “homosexual” is a legitimate identity which one may accept for one’s self, which has no moral content attached to it; but this is precisely what is at stake, and so I fear you have begged the question here.

    “To me, the term ‘Boy Scout’ means that it’s an organization for boys: not for heterosexual boys, or Christian boys, or white boys–just boys who want to be part of what the Boy Scouts practice and teach.”

    But this is not the case. If it were, there would have been no need to change the practices and teachings of the Boy Scouts in order to fit the agenda.

    • SPR: Thanks for your thoughts. I don’t know about “immutable characteristics,” but sexual attraction seems pretty strongly ingrained for most of us. You’re of course right that individuals can and do choose their behaviors, but again, I’m not sure why someone who is attracted to members of his/her own gender should have less freedom to act on his/her predisposition (immutable or not) than do heterosexuals. I don’t think I begged the question of homosexuality’s “moral content” so much as I simply asked of those who find homosexuality to be disqualifyingly immoral: how far ought we to go with that disqualification?

      You’re also correct that the historical attitude of the Boy Scouts of America suggests a clear organizational preference for heterosexual boys (perhaps also for white Christian boys); I’m just noting that such was never expressed in their charter (at least not when I was of scouting age). Perhaps we can interpret all references to “moral fiber” or “virtuous character” as implicitly signaling that homosexuals were ineligible, but then we’re back, as you say, to determining the “moral content” of homosexuality.

      Finally, and for what it’s worth, I’ll note that the scouting movement originated in early twentieth-century England, under the auspices of Mr. Robert Baden-Powell. I have no opinion about Mr. Powell’s own sexuality (though others do), but the history of homosexuality in British boys’ schools of that era is rather notorious. That a grown man decided it would be quite the lark to go camping in the woods with a group of adolescent boys–yes, I’m sure it was all about God and country, and had nothing to do with the cute uniforms.

  7. Peter: First off, I agree that labeling one’s opponents “bigots” is both unfair, uncivil, and unhelpful. If I seemed to suggest that you, or anyone who shares your views on the issue, are a bigot, I apologize. I didn’t mean to imply that at all; while I contrasted my own preference for “inclusion” with the views of those who see homosexuality as both “an abomination and a threat,” I was not saying that such views are merely the result of bigotry. As I said at the outset of my comment, you for one have clearly given this matter a great deal of thought, which “bigots” by and large do not do.

    As to the issue itself, and as to our civilization’s future: you could be right, and time will tell. It’s interesting to me that conservatives–who for so long minimized the effects of “nurture” and environment on behavior, insisting that minorities and the poor could transcend social handicaps/pathologies by force of individual will–have come round to see such factors (some of them, at least) as all but determinative: the children of single mothers and broken families have no chance to flourish, and children raised by gay parents can only hope to be bisexual (yuck!) at best.

    I do wonder: is it just this site, or are all conservatives these days given to apocalyptic forebodings? There are plenty of things I don’t like about the world, but I can’t imagine claiming that anything–not even capitalism, my pet peeve, or the presidency of George W. Bush–is going to “reverse man’s spiritual evolution”? Where is people’s faith (given that most conservatives seem to be Christian), if not in their fellow man, then in the holy Spirit?

    Theologically–once again, I was (and am) being mostly facetious, since I’m an atheist, but I hardly see that “Honor thy father and thy mother” carries the weight you assign it. Why would God leave his meaning “implicit”? Was there no room on the tablets for a clearer statement of His intent?

    Thanks for taking the time to respond.

  8. Mr. Schifflett,

    I should like to pursue your theological querries a bit more, as I think you raise important questions. That you are an atheist personally is, in my view, immaterial. Good questions are good questions. Here’s my attempt at an answer:

    1. I should say at the outset that your question about the Decalogue will likely ellicit a different answer from a Jew and a different answer from a Christian. As a Catholic, I cannot help view the Decalogue but through Christ, who said that he did not come to overturn the Law, but to fulfill it. Jews probably have a very different view.

    2. One could cite certain Biblical passages, particularly about Lot and Sodom, with regard to homosexuality, but I prefer not to, because I think those passages have tended to be abused in order to exclude people from the Church, and that they need to be left alone for a bit to regain their original meaning in people’s hearts.

    3. Instead, I am personally most drawn to two things: first, the basic idea that God is Love, and as such He does not judge any sinner or sin as less sinful than another. That the Church distinguishes between mortal or “heavy” sins and lighter sins is, to some extent, a practical matter. Each Mass begins with a general proclamation of guilt and a prayer for the forgiveness of sins (the mea culpa portion). This is done because it is acknowledged that we are all sinful and thus all require an act of confession before Mass. Yet this general confession is not Sacramental confession between individual priests and parishoners which would in practice take too long if everyone needed to go (although this is a theoretical possibiIity). Some might call this typical Catholic formalism, but I call it the human attempt to do the almost impossible, which in essence the whole Mass is: the attempt to touch the Divine. In the end, God is Love and I hold the view that everyone is saved. The only people who are condemned to Hell are the ones who condemn themselves by choice. To get an idea who they are, I strongly recommend CS Lewis’ The Great Divorce.

    Secondly, as God is Love, His commandments as embodied in the life of Christ and as interpreted in the lives and thoughts of Christians, are really aimed at our happiness. The Catholic teaching is not that homosexuality is evil, nor that sex is evil. The teaching is that marriage and sex in marriage understood as the union of man and woman, and the family that springs from it, are good. And they are not good because they conform to some abstract doctrine, but because they really do make us happy. Those who disagree tend to be unhappy, or young enough that the biological principle of homeostasis shields them from the unhappiness that awaits them eventually if they make a long term habit of vices.

    Theologically then, you will not find – unless you look in the wrong places – a condemnation of gay people, or some idea that they are all Hell-bound on account of being gay. The Decalogue in fact, if you’ll notice is split into two parts: the first part concerns man’s relation to God, the second man’s relation to man. The Decalogue is a guide given to each individual and must – to function – be a living principle, not just something written and executed by religious authorities as it had become when Jesus confronted the Jewish religious leaders.

    Instead, you will find a calling for each individual to take responsibility for the gift of life given to them and shape that life towards happiness. What seems to bother gay people the most about all of this is the same thing that bothers everyone of us – our guilty conscience, and the fact that the first step towards happiness is the need to harshly judge ourselves as individuals and trust that God will not foresake us if we do.

    A final point to ponder: Imagine if heavy drinkers, who certainly are free to drink, organized into a political movement to advocate for the legal redefintion of heavy drinking into sobriety, on equal terms with non drinkers and light drinkers, and by the way – shouldn’t they have the right to care for children while habitually drinking heavily? Or if drug users not only desired drug legalization for the reasons traditionally given against prohibition (which I find rational), but above all because they wishes to establish drug using households where kids can choose from an early age wheather heroine is right for them. You agree this is world’s away from any notion of tolerance for vice or victimless crime?

    The point is: very few people condemn gays for being gay. Many people may even favor civil unions so as to secure visitation rights or to regulate inheritance. But what is happening now is something different: gay partnerships are being equated with marriage and the law is moving towards the legalization of trafficing in human life – for in order for a gay couple to have a family, they will pay people to produce a baby.

    Is a baby a product? Doesn’t the baby have the right to know his father and mother? It is unreasonable to assume these people will not seek out their biological parents and grow up traumatized? Is a child brought up in a “gay family” really free to choose his sexual identity – or could 15 to 18 years of the most formative period of a child’s life with zero experience of the love of a father and mother for eachother not leave such a child incapable of choosing what he or she does not know? After all – there is a reason Jesus had to teach the idea of marriage as a life long union between man and woman: namely – it is not at all obvious, just like many of the virtues are not obvious. This is the essence of spiritual progress – that we learn and rise above ourselves. Choosing a society where the union of mothers and fathers is no longer unique is choosing to spiritually regress. We are free to choose it, but we will live to regret it.

    • Peter: I appreciate your taking the time to elaborate on your views. While there are some things in your comments with which I would disagree, I think that, rather than prolong this thread any further, I’ll let you have the last word. Thanks again for the dialogue.

  9. Jack Shifflett

    Why do you appear to think it is a point scored against traditional views to suggest they think homosexuality is unnatural and immoral? Yes, those of us with traditional views do think this and we should not be afraid to state it. The norms Mr.Frohnen refers to are essentially those of Classical Natural Law, which shows that homosexuality is unnatural and (therefore) immoral (and before you comment make you understand Natural Law and don’t make the usual howlers like “homosexuality exists in nature”, which totally misunderstand the way Classical Natural Law uses the term nature).

    Now, homosexuality, therefore, deserves nothing of us, in terms of sanctions for homosexual actions (it is the actions that are immoral), or even any positivity given to the feelings themselves (to have the feelings in themselves is not immoral, but they must be recognised as a negative occurance). We certainly may tolerate homosexual (remembering the term tolerance originally referred not to acts that were considered immoral still but were allowed to be legal, with the recognition that this was a leniency and not something those engage to immorality deserved by right) acts if we think it is a better overall course than prohibiting them. I disagree with Mr. Rieth if he is suggesting those of us who hold to traditional values and beliefs should accept homosexual acts as legitimate. Indeed, I would go as far to suggest that opposition to so called gay marriage is mostly futile if homosexuality is overwise held to be legitimate and, especially, if homosexuals are to be granted civil unions and most of the practical aspects of marital union.

    In the case of the Boy Scouts, I think the real point is that this organisation is about contributing to the experiences and characters of young men and historically this contribution has been interconnected with an atmosphere of and support for normality, in the sense that Russell Kirk and Mr. Frohnen use the term. The Boy Scouts have historically, even if just implicitly, been about helping to raise normal, that is natural and moral, young men – and normality includes gender and sexuality. Now, long arguments can be had about whether this is the true purpose of the Boy Scouts anymore, but it does seem to have been it past purpose and the opening up to pro-homosexual viewpoints is a sign of the loss of normality (just as our Mr. Shifflett’s rather dubious insinuations against Baden-Powell).

  10. What must be doubly underlined is that Russell Kirk and Mr. Frohnen are using Normal in quite a different way to most of those who use the term the New Normal. The former are referring to norms, to so something very close to the Classical Natural Law idea of the nature or essence of a thing – which determines the Good in respect to the thing. The latter group are just using the term in the sense of a statistical mean or the new social status quo.

    • John James: You ask, “Why do you appear to think it is a point scored against traditional views to suggest they think homosexuality is unnatural and immoral?” I did not think I was scoring a point, merely clarifying a fact which sometimes gets obscured in debates about “traditional marriage” and “traditional families”. Of course people are entitled to that view, just as I’m entitled to disagree.

      You are correct when you point out that “Russell Kirk and Mr. Frohnen are using Normal in quite a different way to most of those who use the term the New Normal,” and you capture the distinction nicely. My own inclination is not to make my own orientation as a heterosexual (or the fact that 90% or more of humans appear to have a heterosexual orientation) “normative” in the former sense. The “New Normal” for which I’m advocating isn’t a reign of homosexual indoctrination or an assault on traditional families; it’s merely a reign of tolerance and mutual acceptance, and an assault on marginalization. Or at least that’s how it appears to me.

  11. Mr. Shifflett, your statement that Mr. Frohnen approaches the topics of “family” and “norms” differently than you do, in the beginning, basically defines the issue. From a biological (hence natural)perspective, the family unit is the core of all human civilization. So the issue is not about sexual predilection or recreation (my lifestyle as it was referred to by a gay performer on “THE VOICE” recently) but about the fundamental values of society. Children are the only essential production of society, and the biological unit that produces them is what needs the protection and preservation, not a lifestyle. True, the lifestyle is eminently important to those individuals; even their own sanity can be wrapped up in it, and at stake; Yet the disintegration of the essential purpose of family,whereby the traditional roles of mother and father are defined according to their biological natures, is at the heart of it all. Boy scouts has been traditionally about making boys into men, who love their God and their Country, and their family. But in modern times, it has become about making Girls into Men, who do not have to be burdened with traditional female issues, like pregnancy and raising children. The biggest issue is that our culture today seeks to make men and women the same; and logically, since your sexual role is a choice, in your essential functioning, well then why not have gay people as normal? Of course there are many problems with this thinking, because, as we know, men and women are NOT the same. And neither are Straight men and Gay men. Their essential purposes in life are different; Straight men are engineered to produce children; gay men are not, as they lack the mental inclination. Is one inferior to the other? Of course not. They are equal in the eye of God. But are they all different? Of course they are. To deny it is to live in a fantasy world rife with danger, right down to the issue of an self professed gay child sharing the night in a tiny pup tent with a naive straight child. But it began with the destruction of the notion of what a “norm” and a “family” is all about, and that came about because many women do not want the traditional family role (of course as they are told throughout their education that it is a bad and inferior thing) and some men, gay men and libertines, now worshipped in our media culture, do not either. I see no evidence statistically this has been good for our society, either in the suicide rate, mental health problems, depression an unhappiness, or in the raising of our children who are often being raised by the State and preschools, almost entirely.

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