Sobran's -- The Real News of the Month

 The War on Norms 

February 22, 2005 
Every Sunday, at the Catholic churches I attend, we say a brief prayer for our troops overseas. I can’t help wondering why we don’t also pray for the people of the countries they occupy. Read Joe's columns the day he writes 
them.Even if the war is justified, they deserve consideration too.

This line of thinking doesn’t stop there. It occurred to me today that although I regularly pray for my own safety, I’m not in the habit of praying that I won’t hurt others. It’s not as if I’m totally innocent and harmless. When we confess that we are sinners, we are admitting not only that we offend God, but that we may also pose dangers to other sinners too. One of these dangers is giving scandal, which includes a bad example that may make it harder for others to follow God’s way.

Giving scandal seems to be a special fault of our generation, which is less concerned than its ancestors about giving scandal to the young. The sexual revolution has taught us that what consenting adults do is strictly their own business; if children follow the bad example we set, that’s tough. Who is to say what’s “bad,” anyway?

The other day a local radio pundit of the liberal persuasion inveighed against Christians on the subject of “gay rights.” He appealed to the Bible, though he didn’t really seem to believe in it, or even to have reflected on it.

His argument was trite, but he delivered it as if it were a novel and seminal idea: that “Jesus never condemned homosexuals.” It follows that Christians who oppose “gay rights” are, yes, un-Christian.

Well, in the first place, Jesus didn’t come to condemn us; he came to redeem us. From what? From our sins. And he had a pretty clear notion of what those sins were. He sharply reminded the Samaritan woman who’d had five husbands that the man she was currently living with wasn’t her husband; he told the woman caught in adultery that he didn’t condemn her, but she should “sin no more.”

[Breaker quote: Is sin sinful?]In neither case did he use the exculpatory phrase consenting adults. It was precisely what these women were consenting to that was sinful. Neither of them disputed that. But the liberal ethos would make these stories pointless.

Jesus isn’t recorded as specifically condemning sodomy. He didn’t have to, any more than he had to condemn pedophilia or writing bad checks. Every kind of sin has countless variants, and this is where he tended to be severe. He taught that mere anger is the seed of murder, and that merely looking at a woman lustfully is the essence of adultery. Sin is in the heart before it takes the form of action.

St. Paul, Christ’s most eloquent apostle, does include sodomy in his by no means exhaustive list of mortal sins, along with murder, slander, drunkenness, and so forth, not because these are all of equal gravity for society, but because they are all destructive to the soul. Human law may permit them, but God’s law is another matter.

In the case of “gay rights,” it’s not as if Christians have singled out homosexuality for special obloquy. On the contrary, homosexual activists themselves have made it an issue. Having taken the initiative, they are in no position to complain of persecution when others merely resist their claims.

Those claims boil down to the demand that sodomy be legally normalized as a matter of justice; that any refusal to treat it as normal, even as eligible for “marriage,” be taboo. The supposed right of homosexuals to equal treatment, like so many so-called civil rights, is meant to trump others’ moral convictions, property rights, and freedom of association. Is this justice, or a war on ancient norms of human behavior?

Since the ancient Greek attitude on this is often contrasted with the Christian one, it’s pertinent to quote the wise scholar C.S. Lewis here: “It is untrue to say that the Greeks thought sexual perversion innocent. The continual tittering of Plato is really more evidential than the stern prohibition of Aristotle. Men titter thus about what they regard as, at least, a peccadillo: the jokes about drunkenness in Pickwick, far from proving that the nineteenth-century English thought it innocent, prove the reverse. There is an enormous difference of degree between the Greek view of perversion and the Christian, but there is not opposition.”

We are all sinners; but nothing is gained by pretending that sin isn’t sinful.

Joseph Sobran

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