Hi folks. I just spent the last 2 hours transcribing the following from a talk given by Princeton professor, Robert George, entitled “On the Moral Purposes of Law and Government.” In advance, let me apologise for this being exceedingly long.
During the first part of his lecture, he addressed the role of the government in society. A subsidiary role of gov’t is to support the work of families and other organizations, who shoulder the primary burden of forming decent upright citizens. It’s not the main function, but it is A function, and an important one. The government should show respect towards those institutions (families, churches, etc) – not undermine them. When it harms those institutions, it harms the people they serve, and essentially undermines itself. Here’s a great quote along the lines of discussing some of the more pressing issues in society today:
“Sound positions cannot be effectively advanced and defended by citizens and statesmen unwilling (or unable) to engage in moral arguments.”
I like that, and I believe it’s true. This is not to exclude more pragmatic considerations, but I do think it equally important to include the moral argument. You can’t exclude it. Our government was founded on a moral society. People are expected to be law-abiding citizens not because of fear of the government, but because of moral conviction. Yes, there are legal repurcussions to illegal behavior, but only if you get caught. And clearly, it’s all too easy to get away with it. A MUCH more effective way to have a safe, law-abiding community is to have people who believe in keeping the law out of sheer allegiance to it and to their consciences.
It should be noted, as Prof. George noted, the government cannot create such honest, & upright citizens. The government depends on them, but cannot make them. Families make them, hence the family is the fundamental unit of society. Destroy the family, you destroy society. Period.
And. “Marriage is the indespensible foundation of the family,” as he put it. Destroy marriage, and you strip the traditional family of it’s support structure (as I put it).
If you undermine the organizations that are primarily responsible for strengthening the family, you will undermine society.
Below are some highlights from the last half of his talk, and *thankfully* address directly some things that have come up in comments recently here.
In the absence of a strong marriage culture, families fail to form. We now know that from the experience of so many of our inner cities. And when they do form, they are often unstable. Absentee fathers become a serious problem, out of wedlock births become common, and a train of social pathologies follows. With families failing to perform their health, education, and welfare functions, what happens?
It’s predictable. The demand for government grows. Somebody’s gotta step in to deal with the problems, whether in the form of greater policing, or as a provider of other social services. Beaurocracies then have to be created, whether they’re for increased policing or for delivery of social services, and these beaurocracies inexorably expand, and indeed –we all know it—they become powerful lobbyists for their own preservation and expansion. Everyone suffers, with the poor and most vulnerable members of society suffering the most.
Insert: YES! yes yes yes. This is so true. I have seen it, vividly seen it, happen in low-income areas nearby, and in other states we’ve lived in. Where the family disintegrates, so does society. The government makes a sad, sorry substitute for a two-parent home.
We need to rebuild the family in so many places where we have such breakdown, not primarily for the sake of the middle class or upper class, although they suffer too from family breakdown; the real victims of the loss, the decline, the erosion, of the integrity of the institution of marriage are the poor and vulnerable, who depend so vitally on that institution.
The effective defense of marriage against the current onslaught will require an understanding of marriage as a matter of moral truth. Practical or pragmatic arguments are legitimate and important, but too few pro-marriage politicians are willing to say much about what marriage actually is. This gives those who would abolish the conjugal conception of marriage, replace it, redefine marriage, an important advantage in the public debate.
They hammer away with their rhetoric of love makes a family, and demand to know why anyone’s marriage would be threatened if the same-sex partners next door were allowed to marry. You’ve all heard that argument. “Why’s it any concern to you? Why does it hurt your marriage or your family, hurt your church, if the law recognizes as a marriage the relationship of the same-sex partners next door?” and a lot of people seem to be stumped on the pro-marriage side, stumped by that argument.
Well, everyone agrees that marriage, whatever else it is or does, is a relationship in which persons are united, it is a union of persons. But what are persons? What does it mean to be a person? And how is it possible for two persons to unite? How is it possible for two persons to become one?
According to the view implicit in sexual liberationists ideology, the “person” is understood as the conscious and desiring aspect of a self. A person is fundamentally a consciousness, a center of emotion, thought. The person thus understood, inhabits a body, but the body is regarded, if only implicitly in many cases, not as a personal part of the human being, or a part of the person, but as a sub-personal aspect of the self. The body is viewed as serving the interests of the conscious and desiring aspect of the self by functioning as an instrument by which the individual produces or otherwise participates in satisfactions and other desirable experiences, and realizes various objectives and goals.
For those who formally or informally accept ….
According to this view, human beings are not non-bodily persons, who inhabit and use non-personal bodies as mere extrinsic instruments. The body is no mere instrument for inducing satisfactions for the sake of the conscious and desiring aspect of the self; rather a human person as we’re constituted here on this earth, is a dynamic unity of body, mind, and spirit. The body, far from being a mere instrument, is intrinsically part of the reality of the human being.
Bodily union, therefore, is personal union, and comprehensive personal union –marital union—is founded on bodily union. Marriage as a comprehensive sharing of life means a union at all stages, all levels of a human being: the bodily, the emotional, the dispositional, the rational, the spiritual. But what’s special about marital friendship, making it different from all other forms of friendships and sharing and unity, is that at all of the levels at which life is shared, the sharing is founded upon, the foundation of it is bodily communion.
That also helps to make sense of the historic requirement, for example, of the consummation of marriage. It also explains why marriage can be only two people, and not three or five or seven. Two people can unite as a reproductive union; they can fulfill the behavioral conditions of reproduction, whether or not the nonbehavioral conditions happen to obtain, but that’s not something that three people or five people can do.
If marriage is merely an emotional union, because the person is merely the emotional center – the conscious and desiring self , the body not being a part of the personal reality of the human being – then it’s true that sexual complimentarity is no part of the picture. Two people of the same sex can be emotionally united. But by the same token, so can three or five or seven, so no account –no intelligible account—can be given, no rational principle can be identified for saying why marriage should be two and only two people, rather than three or four or five.
Fundamentally it’s clear that any argument that would give you, if you wanted to get there, a justification for same-sex marriage, would equally give you an argument for polyamory, understanding marriage as available to more than two people, three or five or seven, sharing sexual relations as a unit.
Very interesting, to dive down to the level of “what is a person, then” and take it from there. And very interesting that this lecture was given last week on BYU campus. He goes on to discuss more along these lines… And then brings up the following:
The acceptance of the idea would result, indeed, is already resulting, in a massive undermining of religious liberty and family autonomy as supporters of same-sex marriage would, and are now, in the name of equality, demanding the use of governmental power to whip churches and other institutions into line.
The experience of Mass, now in CA as well, and many foreign jurisdictions, is that once marriage is compromised or formally redefined, principles of nondiscrimination law are quickly used as cudgels against religious communities and families, who wish to uphold true marriage by precept and example. The idea that the legally recognized union of the couple next door who are of the same sex as being married has no bearing on your life, on your family, on your religious community, turns out to be spectacularly false.
We see it now in California. We see it in schools, where students are subjected to same-sex curricula, that their parents have a very difficult time opting them out of, in some jurisdictions are not permitted to opt out of, where they are taught that marriage is the union of any two people, that love makes a family. If their parents think something different, the view that is communicated to the children is that their parents are bigots. Their parents are suffering from mere irrational phobias. Their parents are guilty of the same sort of thing that people of an earlier generation were guilty of when they discriminated against blacks or Jews or other minorities…
In my religion, we believe it is wrong to drink coffee, alcohol & use drugs. Lots of good reasons for it, and mostly, “God says so,” (which, as previously noted, is politically incorrect reasoning.) (Does that make it a huge, central part of our religion? No. Central is Christ, and His role as Savior and Redeemer.) Continuing with my drinking/drugs example…
Let’s take it further. Is there another group coming, about defending the”right” for public sanction of adultery? Let’s teach kids that it’s okay to have sex with anyone at any time, for any reason, regardless of marital status. If you aren’t “in love” with your spouse any more, the tie has been cut! If you are “in love” with someone married to someone else, it doesn’t matter! Love makes a family! No, no, no — don’t tell me this is a different issue. Legally it may not pull the same “equal rights” weight, but this is STILL a moral-founded principle, exactly on the same footing to many, many religions, as homosexual behavior.
In a society so constantly over-sexed by the media, the principle of self-control seems lacking. Expecting people to bridle passions and control their behavior almost seems out of place today… As does compassion & respect for people of differing cultures, opinions and beliefs. Yes, I would expect someone identifying themself as homosexual to curb their passions and not act on them. I would also expect an unmarried heterosexual to do the same. It’s wrong, wrong, wrong of people to persecute homosexuals – but I don’t agree that we should legalify their same-sex relationship as marriage. In California, domestic partnerships already have every legal “benefit” bestowed on a married couple – except the title. Let’s teach love and respect in our schools, not alternative lifestyles.
(Rambling: In fact, let’s do away with sex ed altogether while we’re at it, and while I’m writing on my blog I suppose it’s my priviledge to say such things. Sex Ed belongs in the family, is most effectively taught in the family, and it’s a sad society that needs it to be taught elsewhere. If it really is necessary to teach it in school, let’s give equal (if not more) weight to abstinence, shall we?! It’s the ultimate cure for STD’s, unwanted pregnancies, and a host of other problems.)
One of the problems with the written word is that it often seems much, much harsher than intended. Rest assured, reader, I really don’t mean to distance myself from my anti-8 friends here. On the contrary completely. I am just trying to explain myself and my position further, and hopefully bridge some gaps of misunderstanding.
Does that mean I shun my family members or friends who choose otherwise? Does that mean I teach my kids to beat up their kids? If we find our neighbor owns a coffee maker, do we cease all contact? (We’d have been friendless in Washington… )Does that mean I should be singled out for teaching my kids to avoid addictive substances like alcohol & drugs? I’m being discriminatory, right? I’m teaching dangerous, unhealthy prejudices and bigotry, and there aught to be a school program to teach my children that I’m wrong — drinking & drugs are fine. We should support people in their addictions because they can’t help it, it’s their right, and it’s alright any way. You shouldn’t harm yourself by curbing those desires for substances that are harmful.
Hopefully it’s *very* obvious that I’m going overboard with this analogy. We do none of the above. I teach my kids they shouldn’t try substances that could be addictive because physical addictions impair their spirit, and those substances irreperably harm their bodies, and because a prophet of God revealed that we shouldn’t. When they see someone smoking, it’s a brief conversation. “Yep, he’s smoking. Some people do. But we still love him, and Heavenly Father does too!”
I realize many don’t feel the way I do about Prop8, but perhaps they can at least understand my desire to protect the right to teach my children my version of morality — not society’s political-correct, anything-goes lifestyle. People who desire a homosexual lifestyle do it for a variety for reasons. It isn’t fair to throw out a blanket statement like, “They were born that way,” and use it for the whole group, any more than others can say “They chose to be that way” and apply it to all people engaging in homosexual behavior.
This religious freedom aspect is a huge issue for me, and the reason I’m continuing to fight a battle that’s not even my state’s. Those who promote same-sex marriage quickly jump to the conclusion that those who desire the liberty to freely teach that homosexual behavior is wrong, are therefore bigots, full of homophobia and hate towards same-sex couples. I wish I could show them how teaching that certain behavior is wrong is different from teaching hatred of people engaging in that behavior! I will say it until I turn blue, and I will act it as well as I am able. There really is difference.
Yes, there are families and maybe even whole churches that teach persecution of gays. I think they teach it wrongly, and I know you think it too. We need to love each other, and show respect at all times. Thanks again for those with differing opinions who haven’t thrown insults or pointed fingers, and who in the process have much more effectively educated and shown their side of the issue.
But love and respect does not mean that I aught to be required to accept & legally sanction a lifestyle I believe is contrary to the commandments of God. Perhaps I should illustrate. Forgive me, this example is not a perfect one, for it only illustrates this one thing.