The empirical sciences are fantastic for discovering many things, but intellectual and moral truths are not among them. We must turn instead to the principles of philosophy and ethics, deduced from the objective moral standard of truth, to discover the answer to the questions about how we ought to live…
The modern world is steeped in nearly unprecedented viciousness. All manner of public immorality challenging nearly all Ten Commandments is not only promoted but is being codified into conventional law by our increasingly immoral politicians , who are spurred on by increasingly immoral society. The Fifth, Sixth, and Ninth Commandments are particularly tested by the pro-abortion and the LGBT movements. Sexual license has been a gateway to tolerate increasingly aberrant, and sterile, forms of sexuality activity.
Justification for our rapidly decreasing morality is proffered by a pseudo-scientific body of assertions meant to confuse an unsuspecting and unscientific populace. When it comes to abortion, the pseudo-scientific equivocation is about when life begins. Now, with homosexual activity the new pseudo-scientific trope is that people are “born that way”—a claim not only unsupported by science, by in defiance of rightly-ordered thinking about the human person, human sexuality, and revealed truth concerning sexual morality.
Confucius wisely said in his Analects that “the virtuous man is catholic, the unvirtuous man is partisan.” The great thinker means to say that all sets of ideas associated with parties are bound to be flawed even if many of their tenets do in fact correspond to truth. The catholic man is able to see what is true and false regardless of affiliation. It is quite true that no cause or party gets all things right, but the human person is called to discern, to make distinctions, and to discover truth by the right use of the intellect with judgements that help the human mind converge with reality. Truth after all is not subjective, but ordered hierarchically to the created cosmos evident in the book of nature and further exposed by Judeo-Christian revelation.
In contradiction to the world, the Roman Catholic epistemology understands that our properly-functioning senses hold out the potential for infallible receptivity. Our intellectual mistakes are a deficiency in judgement concerning conceptualization and not a result of our faulty senses of perception. One of the reasons we are at odds with the world is that the world holds just the opposite: i.e., that our senses are flawed and thus human reason is to be held suspect. Catholics hold that reason perfected by revelation is the highest way of knowing, and the world says the accumulation of data as interpreted by the “experts” is the best way of knowing. These two views stand in contradisinction to one another; not that Catholics exclude data—we don’t—but the modern world excludes revelation and now even philosophy.
Today, parties and causes are apt to adhere to sets of assertions that defy ethical and intellectual truth and conform instead to the undulating pathology of an increasingly sentimental population. The modern mode of justification is to cram, forcefully and illegitimately, statistical evidence into preconceived ideology, rather than to follow the data to legitimate conclusions grounded in scientific integrity and first principles. Nowhere is this truth more evident than in the “gay pride” movement which is unvirtuous, partisan, and extremely narrow.
To dare to defy the assertions put forth by the world is to incur increasingly harsh reprisals. The major assertion that homosexuals are “born that way” is being pushed on a less-than-intellectually-prepared public. This not only defies the science, but it does violence to reasonable and principled thinking—the kind of thinking we are called to by Christ Himself in John 7:24 when he tells us, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
First things first
In the debates about homosexuality and sin, we have ignored a most basic grammatical consideration, without which the confusions about homosexuality abound. Aristotle begins his work, Categories, explaining three types of words: homonyms, synonyms, and paronyms. Of course, everyone knows that homonyms are two words that have the same spelling but signify different meanings. Synonyms are two different words that signify the same meaning. A term whose significance seems to have been obscured or even forgotten is the paronym. A recovery of the paronym will help to straighten out much modern misunderstanding.
A paronym, explains Aristotle, is when things “get their name from something, with a difference of ending.” For an example, take the word “grammar”; we call a person who is an expert in grammar a “grammarian.” The grammarian derives his name from grammar. The paronym helps us to associate what a person does with who he is in a way that does not confuse the categories of being and doing. We are in fact what we are, and we are not what we do; thus the paronym is a way for us to tell others about ourselves without making definitive statements about our being. The grammarian is an expert in grammar, but he is still a human being in the most fundamental sense.
When we say something like “I am a surfer, I am a teacher,” or “I am a musician,” we are not speaking about a condition of our being—we are describing the things we do. Similarly, when someone says “I am an alcoholic, I am a drug addict,” or “I am a homosexual,” he is saying something about the things he does that are addictive behaviors, not about his personal being. A paronym is used so that we might describe to others how the things we do are an important or prominent part of our lives, but these are things we do, not things we actually are, at least not in a synonymous sense.
For one to say “I am a surfer” is not to say that being a human being and a surfer are synonymous, for they are not. A surfer is a human person who surfs. Just so, an alcoholic is not synonymous with the human person, but describes a human person who has a drinking problem. Just so, a homosexual is a paronym for a human person who engages in homosexual activity, and it is not synonymous with a kind of human person.
We also say things like “I was born to surf, I was born to do music,” or “I was born to teach.” This does not say anything about how we were actually born, but it does suggest that we are possibly born with different strengths and weaknesses and that we tend to be drawn to some activities while we are repelled by others. This suggestion ought not to exclude the considerations of environmental exposure to things or the free-will choices we make. We are all drawn to different things: some are disordered inclinations, others are not. But we are never the same as our disordered inclinations, even if we describe ourselves by them. It is reflective of truth to say, “I am a human person made in the image and likeness of God.” Or if one is not religious, at least we can identify ourselves by the philosophical anthropology. This is the correct way of describing the order of being to which we belong. The paronym is our way of describing the things we do, and a recovery of this understanding has the potential to clear up many confusing assertions of this age.
Last things last
A synonym for the human person is the “image and likeness of God.” A paronym for a human person afflicted with same-sex attraction is “homosexual.” What leads one to call himself a “homosexual” has nothing to do with his being, but begins with a disordered inclination—same sex-attraction—and manifests itself in a series of behaviors by which he comes to call himself by the paronym of “homosexual.” Teachers, grammarians, surfers, alcoholics, drug addicts, and homosexuals are not the categories we use to discuss human persons and their final ends, but rather a way of asserting the predominant activities by which we may become known.
When we speak of human persons, we are making reference to immortal souls with immortal ends. Every human person will face the last four things: death, judgment, heaven or hell. Our end corresponds to the condition of our being. It is not accurate to say synonymously that we are something we do, as in the case of the homosexual. No one is born that way and the paronym still says nothing about the intrinsic dignity and worth of each individual human person, any more than does the designation of “teacher” or “surfer” or alcoholic.
The empirical sciences are fantastic for discovering many things, but intellectual and moral truths are not among them. We must instead turn to the principles of philosophy and ethics, deduced from the objective moral standard of truth, to discover the answer to the questions about how we ought to live. We are not to live by enslaving ourselves to our disordered inclinations and proclivities. We are human persons made in the image and likeness of God, called to live out the mission that puts us on the narrow path to meet God face to face; we are not a paronym of our favorite activity.
Those who call themselves “homosexuals” are no more born that way than one who plays the guitar is born a guitarist, or the one who abuses substances is born an addict. Playing guitar, homosexual activity, and drug abuse are free-will choices we make by our own power, not something we are compelled to do by an accident of birth. Although it may be true that we do not choose the things to which we are attracted, we still get to choose how we respond to our attractions. The married man may be attracted to other women, but if he acts on that attraction he will violate the moral law. Just so, the same-sex-attracted person does not have the moral liberty to act on that attraction by virtue of the attraction itself. We must return to the truth that our actions must be subordinated to the right use of reason guided by the moral law.
To be virtuous is to strive to cultivate the intellect and will in such a way that they align with the natural moral law. It is not morally permissible for us to promote sexual sins, homosexual or otherwise, because it is an offense against the dignity of the human person. The fact that so many in the present age support immoral sexual activity is a sign that we are losing sight of the authentic ends of the human person. It is not an act of love to support our brothers and sisters in sexual sin.
To disentangle the confusion about same-sex attraction, homosexuality, and the question of being “born that way,” we would be wise to begin with a return to the distinctions bequeathed to us by Aristotle. The designation “homosexual” has long been misused as a synonym for a human person, while a real synonym for the human person—the image and likeness of God—has been increasingly ignored. It would behoove us to recognize the difference between the paronym of “homosexual” and the human person in order that we might eradicate some of the confusion that grips the modern world.
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. The Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.