Friday, November 19, 2010

A Gloss on Catholic Theology of the Body as Bogus Science Propping Up Bad Theology

A gloss on what I've just posted about the ludicrous science now being used to prop up bad theology, as proponents of the theology of the body now assert that the superiority of male-female sex is proven by the response of the vagina to semen: 

I want to make the theological point crystal clear.  That is, I want to make crystal clear my point that this particular rendition of the theology of the body is bad theology clothed in preposterous science.  Here's why: it actually moves Catholic ethical thinking backwards in the area of sexual teaching, while claiming it is doing so in response to good science.  It retrieves ethical conclusions long since discarded by the Catholic tradition itself, at its best, while it also claims to be offering an entirely new, scientifically astute reading of sexual ethics:

To wit:

1. The claim that science demonstrates that the vagina is simply waiting around eager to receive male ejaculate continues the now-rejected understanding of male-female complementarity in the scholastic theology of the manual tradition, in which women are simply passive receptacles of what really counts in sexual intercourse--that is, the semen.

2. The theory that Gregory Popcak is promoting on the Commonweal thread to which I linked previously steps back in time to Aquinas, with Aquinas's conclusion (following Aristotle) that males provide the essential stuff of life in intercourse, and all that women provide is the incubator, the waiting receptacle.

3. And so, as should be apparent, this backwards-looking and scientifically unsound understanding of human sexuality also reinforces male domination.  Men carry life itself (the "little man," the homunculus that resides in the semen), and women incubate life for their men.  (But we now know from sound science that it's quite the opposite, and that the role women play in procreation surpasses that of males in importance).

4. On the basis of his Aristotelian reading of nature (which was necessarily limited by lack of scientific knowledge at the time he wrote, as was Aristotle's), Aquinas concluded that it is less morally serious for a man to rape a woman than to masturbate or engage in homosexual activity.  The former act at least puts the all-important semen where it belongs . . . .  This is precisely where Popcak's theory of the semen as the glue that cements marriage by landing in the vagina also heads.

5. This is bad theology propped up by defective science because it does not really intend to pay serious attention to scientific findings at all.  It has its mind made up before it cracks a science textbook.  It merely looks for any scientific research it can latch onto to prove its preconceived notion that only male-female sex is natural, and that male domination of females is natural.

6. At its best, traditional Catholic theology does more than pay lip-service to science, because it believes that faith and reason must function in tandem, and that the two are not antithetical to each other.

7.  The reading of nature that contemporary theology-of-the-body natural law thinkers are promoting is highly selective and deliberately blind to many of the most salient facts available to us from the side of dispassionate scientific observation of nature, as we formulate a sexual ethic.  For instance, its attempt to dismiss same-sex activity as unnatural flies in the face of abundant evidence for homosexual behavior as precisely natural throughout the animal kingdom.

8. There is another level of disingenuousness in the "scientific" arguments now being used by theology-of-the-body thinkers to defend traditional positions, as well.  The resistance to same-sex marriage has been fueled for a long time by the argument that marriage is all about procreation, and same-sex marriage is impermissible and unnatural because it thwarts the procreative purpose of marriage.

The proposal that semen is a glue cementing male-female unions inside the receptive vagina seeks to keep alive the conclusions of the procreative argument vs. same-sex marriage, while also claiming that the unitive function of marriage is rooted in nature--in a biology of male-female complementarity that excludes same-sex intimacy from authentic unitive behavior. 

9. And so this argument kicks male-dominant heterosexism up a notch in Catholic moral thinking, by denying all evidence for the solidity, depth, and fruitfulness of any and all gay unions, and elevating any and all heterosexual unions, no matter how shallow they may be, to the level of the ideal--the ideal in which the eager and waiting vagina receives the donation of the male semen that cements the heterosexual union.

10. This way of thinking about human sexuality is crudely biologistic, reductionistic, and even--it has to be said--crudely adolescent, in a male adolescent fantasizing sort of way.  This crude, heterosexist adolescent male way of thinking about human sexuality is entirely tone-deaf to what is most important of all in evaluating human sexual behavior--the relational dimension, the relationships within which sexual activity occurs.

The Catholic church can and should do far better, if it wants to keep thinking and morally sensitive people on board at this point in history, and if it wants to avoid re-branding itself as a club for immature heterosexual males and immature women who enjoy being dominated by men.

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