Action Alert!

Gender Ideology 3: The value of personal relationships

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | May 25, 2016

Another argument used to justify a multiplicity of genders, each with its own natural affectivity, is that those affected often speak of their relationships as deeply fulfilling. Such persons can be sincerely committed to each other’s good , and they may well testify to the deep benefits of that commitment and care. Many regard this as a kind of proof that, far from meriting condemnation, these relationships should be recognized as good. (See also the first and second parts of this series.)

The weaknesses of this argument may be demonstrated in a variety of ways. One of the quickest is to take as an example a relationship that is still universally recognized as “just plain wrong”. If an adult praises the mutual benefits and fulfillment of a committed sexual relationship with a ten-year-old child, for example, an overwhelming majority will regard the immorality of the sexual relationship as sufficient to make the whole relationship impermissible. The same is widely true of a committed sexual relationship of a man with a dog, or a woman with a cat.

Although our confidence in dismissing their validity is rapidly diminishing, most people today would still judge some relationships to be so morally flawed as to be unacceptable. Most people would not be swayed by the testimony of those involved regarding their happiness, their fulfillment, or their good influence on each other. In fact, most would be very likely to argue (just as they once argued about contraception, abortion, and homosexual sex) that nobody could possibly approve such practices, and that the desire to legalize “X” (say, pornography) is certainly not a step toward approving such obvious evils.

Of course, we have seen these arguments at every stage of slippage down the sex-and-gender slope, and we know by now that whatever is repudiated today will be demanded as justice tomorrow. But we still should ask ourselves why we are so confident that some sorts of relationships could never possibly be considered good, and then why we so frequently change our minds about those relationships in the space of a few years. The practical answer is cultural pressure, of course—which is too often our single most important determinant of morality. But I mean that we should challenge ourselves to answer these questions rationally.

Relationships have multiple values

Testimony to the value of a relationship is never irrelevant, but it will inescapably lack moral perception in those areas in which the one who testifies is morally blind. This means that, if there is a moral point at issue, a person who fails to recognize the moral issue is incapable of assessing the harm that this aspect of the relationship will do. Inescapably, then, the common practice of justifying the morality of a relationship by referring to the positive testimony of those involved is absurd on its face. It is really a tautology: Secretly assuming from the start that aspect A of relationship A257 is not immoral, we proceed to prove the rightness of relationship A by attesting to values 2, 5 and 7.

Because human relationships are complex, they are always multivalent. They will always have a variety of aspects under which they may be considered, and through which they help or harm those involved. For this and other reasons it is not at all uncommon for abused women to testify to the value of their marriages by emphasizing (so to speak) values 2, 5 and 7. How much more will this be the case among people who simply do not see any problem with the form of abuse in question, especially among consenting adults! This point was made very well by Eve Tushnet in her book Gay and Catholic (see my review, Replacing problems with persons: Eve Tushnet’s new book). While she recognized the moral problem in her homosexual relationships with other women—and in fact she embraced chastity as a result—she was able to cherish the many good things that were part of these relationships, including influences that helped her to develop certain virtues.

But what Tushnet has recognized so clearly is that a relationship must be broken if it includes an acceptance of intrinsic evil. It is morally wrong to continue in a relationship which includes as part of its very definition a participation in immoral behavior, and this is even more true when the sin is found in what the participants consider the very consummation of the relationship. This principle must be applied not only to the plethora of “non-traditional” relationships which now surround us, but also to some very traditional relationships, such as that between a wealthy man and his mistress.

The Lord of the Manor may speak as effusively as he likes about how good his mistress has been for him, and how much he shall miss her and treasure her memory when she is gone, but however sincere he may be, it simply will not do. On intrinsic moral grounds, the relationship must be dramatically altered or ended. The commitment to its immoral aspect must be withdrawn, and both parties are obliged to take due steps to avoid the temptations natural to the case.

Theater of the absurd

All this requires moral fortitude, a virtue usually conspicuously lacking wherever the drama of romance is performed. A man may wax rhapsodic on the subject of his partner, his mistress, or his dog; a woman may be head over heels when it comes to her lover, however defined. Both may savor the delights of any number of relationships, sure in their hearts that God has gifted them with a gender which naturally finds its fulfillment in a bar, a harem or a zoo. But remembering the first flush of our own romances—how definitive, how self-evidently right, how sublime and everlasting!—we ought to recognize that without moral restraint the rhapsody of romance is perceived by more experienced souls as comic, at least until it is tragic.

What all of this tells us is that two aspects of frequent discussions on this subject are supremely illogical and terribly unfair. The first is to evaluate the morality of a relationship based on testimonies which fail to recognize the moral question. The second is to deny the benefits that can accrue in relationships which remain, nonetheless, morally unacceptable. There is no point in scoffing at those who claim to find good in a relationship characterized by immoral coupling. To take my own reactions as an example, there is no reason for me to be led by my horror of homosexual practices to deny whatever may be good or truly beneficial in a relationship based on same-sex attraction.

After all, my personal horror is no reason at all for ending a relationship marked by a mutual commitment to sin, just as my “warm fuzzies” do not justify it. The point at issue is neither my reaction nor theirs but the intrinsic evil involved, which the parties are morally obliged to reject. They may be able to salvage some of the goods in their relationship by recasting it in another form, such as friendship. But the moral evil must be avoided, and insofar as it is rooted in the very definition of the relationship, the relationship must end.

The ends do not justify the means; it is never moral to do evil that some good might result. We can no more justify a mutual commitment to moral evil by extrolling the peace, comfort and joy to be found in a relationship, than we can justify robbing a bank to enjoy the very real benefits of wealth. Finally, it is of the very essence of the moral life that one grows more by refusing what is evil than by enjoying what is good. In the same way, the very economy of grace ensures that God will provide a happiness far greater than that found in any good we may sacrifice, whenever our sacrifice is made to do His will.

Previous in series: Gender Ideology 2: Personal disorder and personal sin
Next in series: Gender Ideology 4: The scourge of our inner life

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

There are no comments yet for this item.