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Aquinas on homosexuality

Thought I would try a bit of a draft out on the blog, for feedback. All comments gratefully received. No doubt I've got at least some details wrong re the Catholic Church's position...


Aquinas’s thinking remains hugely influential within the Catholic Church. In particular, his ideas concerning sexual ethics still heavily shape Church teaching. It is on these ideas that we focus here. In particular, I will look at Aquinas’s justification for morally condemning homosexual acts.

When homosexuality is judged to be morally wrong, the justification offered is often that homosexuality is, in some sense, “unnatural”. Aquinas develops a sophisticated version of this sort of argument. The roots of the argument lie in thinking of Aristotle, whom Aquinas believes to be scientifically authoritative. Indeed, one of Aquinas’s over-arching aims was to show how Aristotle’s philosophical system is broadly compatible with Christian thought. I begin with a sketch of Aristotle’s scientific conception of the world.

Aristotle’s vision of the world

Man-made objects typically have a purpose. A knife is made to cut, a telephone for speaking to people at a distance, and a car for transporting us about. In the case of knives, telephones and cars, it is clear what their purpose is, as we made them for that purpose. But what about naturally occurring things? Might they, too, have a purpose?

Clearly, some naturally things do have a function. Legs are for walking and running. Teeth are for biting and chewing. Hearts are for pumping blood. But what of clouds, pebbles and mountains? Are they, too, for something?

Aristotle believed that here, too, a purpose can ultimately be found. Clouds exist to produce rain, rain to water plants, and plants to feed animals. In Aristotle’s view, the natural world forms a rational system within which everything has a purpose. Nothing just is – it is always for something. And the ultimate end to which everything is finally geared, according to Aristotle, is man: “nature has made all things specifically for the sake of man”.

The addition of God

This Aristotelean vision of purpose-driven world – a world that, by applying our power of reasons, we are able to fathom and comprehend – was well-known to and much admired by many medieval Christian thinkers. They considered it involved only one major omission: God. Aquinas took Aristotle’s view of a purpose-driven world and added to it the thought that the purpose each thing possesses is given to it by God.

God’s entire creation, according to Aquinas, is imbued with divine purpose. By examining the world carefully - by uncovering the essential natures of things and the laws determining what they are for - we can discern God’s plan and intentions.
Aquinas extends this view to cover even ourselves. We too, are made by God for a purpose. By examining our essential natures and revealing what we are for, we can discern what God intends us to be. We can arrive at knowledge of what is in keeping with, and what is contrary to, God’s intentions, and so what is morally good and bad.

The claim that morality can, as it were, be “read off” nature in this way is called the theory of “natural law”.

Aquinas on sexual ethics

You can now see how Aquinas’s version of “natural law” theory is likely to have repercussions for sexual ethics. Many parts of our bodies have a purpose. These purposes are, according to Aquinas, God-given. It was God who gave us legs so that we can walk, a tongue so that we can taste and speak, and so on. But then someone who uses their body, or any part of it, contrary to the manner God intended, contravenes “natural law”. To thwart the natural functions that God has given things is act against God’s will. That makes it wrong.

The God-given role of semen

Aquinas notes that semen is plays a role in reproduction. That is its purpose, he supposes. But then any activity that involves thwarting the natural function of semen must be contrary to nature, and thus morally wrong. “It is evident,” says Aquinas,

that every emission of semen, in such a way that generation cannot follow, is contrary to man. And if this be done deliberately, it must be a sin. Summa Theologica.

But then it follows that those sexual acts that result in the issue of semen where generation is not possible must be sinful. As homosexual acts between males involve thwarting the purpose God has assigned to semen, such acts are “contrary to nature”. If we act in this way, we frustrate the will of God. We sin.

Of course, if Aquinas is correct, it follows that masturbation and contraception are sinful too. This is, of course, the current position of the Catholic Church on homosexuality, masturbation, oral sex and contraception. All are sinful.

To date, the Catholic Church continues to oppose the use of condoms even in places like Africa, where they might save countless lives by reducing the spread of HIV and Aids (though there are signs, finally, that the Church may be about to shift its position on this). The roots of the Church’s justification for continuing to forbid the use of condoms lie at least partly in Aquinas’s medieval blending of Christian theology with Aristotle’s science. The use of condoms involves thwarting the natural reproductive function God has assigned to semen.

An initial objection: walking on your hands

One of the more obvious worries you might have about Aquinas’ justification for condemning homosexual acts is this: doesn’t it commit him to morally condemning all sorts of behaviour that is, in fact, entirely blameless? Take walking on your hands. There is nothing morally wrong with that, surely? Circus performers and acrobats do it all the time. No one, not even the staunchest Catholic, condemns them. Yet our hands are not designed to be walked on. So why doesn’t Aquinas condemn the activities of circus folk?

Aquinas’ response

Aquinas is ready for this objection. He admits that it isn’t always wrong to use a body part contrary to its natural function. Walking on your hands is not a sin. But this is because, as Aquinas puts it, “man’s good is not much opposed by such inordinate use.” It is acceptable to use a body part contrary to its natural function if this helps man as a whole, or at least doesn’t frustrate the natural purpose of that whole. Walking on your hands does not frustrate the purpose God has given man, and so it is morally acceptable. But homosexuality does frustrate this purpose. Man is designed by God to procreate. Homosexuality thwarts that function. That makes it morally wrong.

Objections to Aquinas’s sexual ethics

Many other objections have been raised against Aquinas’ sexual ethics, including the following two:

1. Just as occasional bouts of walking on your hands won’t prevent you using them for the purpose they were intended, so occasional bouts of homosexual activity do not prevent a man from using his sexual organs to reproduce normally. Just as I might use my hands normally most of the time, but occasionally engage in a bout of hand-walking, so I might I might use my sexual organs procreativity for the most part, while also engaging in the odd homosexual fling. It is not immediately clear how Aquinas’s argument, as outlined above, allows Aquinas to justify condemning homosexual activity per se, rather than just exclusively homosexual activity. Perhaps Aquinas’s argument might be bolstered by the addition of the premise that God also clearly also intends us to be strictly monogamous.

2. Aquinas’s justification is dependent upon several questionable claims many of us no longer accept. These include:

(i) The claim that God exists. If there is no God, then the suggestion that things possesses purposes that are given by God is false. But then Aquinas’ argument has rational force only if he can show that there are good grounds for supposing God exists. Whether there are such grounds is contentious, to say the least. In the absence of good grounds for supposing God exists, we lack good grounds for accepting Aquinas’ conclusion.

(ii) But in any case, even if there is a God, the claim that those purposes that we find in nature indicate what God desires is questionable. We now know that the universe and all the species in it were not created more or less simultaneously by God just a few thousand years ago, as Aquinas believed. What Aquinas took to be natural functions, roles, dispositions etc. laid down by God at creation were in reality laid down by natural selection over millions of years. And the functions, roles and dispositions that have evolved by natural selection need not be good. Natural selection favours attributes that enhance the ability of organisms to survive and reproduce. And what enhances that ability may well not be morally admirable. For example, we may have evolved a natural disposition to dominate and subjugate others. Such a disposition may well have survival value. But just because this tendency is “natural” for humans in no way entails that it is morally good.


Philosophy is sometimes accused of being a head-in-the-clouds discipline with no relevance to day-to-day life. But if philosophy can show that the moral justifications offered for condemning homosexuality and the use of condoms are, in fact, intellectually bankrupt, then philosophy might prove very useful indeed. It might even contribute towards saving countless lives.


potentilla said…
Also, even if we were to accept Aristotle's purpose-driven vision, there is no reason that evolution by natural selection shouldn't fit in with it, given that natural selection works by weeding out the less-useful traits.

There are three main hypotheses about why and how homosexuality evolved (I can elaborate if you are interested). All of them involve it being useful for something, or else being a side-effect of something that is useful for something. So why couldn't Aquinas' "semen has a purpose" be taken a step further to "homosexuality has a purpose"?

Indeed, one of the three hypotheses (kin altruism) has homosexuality directly supporting what you quote as A's view of humanity's purpose (to procreate).

I also think you need to deal with why anyone would take seriously these days an argument based on Aristotle's science.
Larry Hamelin said…
But if philosophy can show that the moral justifications offered for condemning homosexuality and the use of condoms are, in fact, intellectually bankrupt, then philosophy might prove very useful indeed.

I don't know. If religious people worried much about intellectual bankruptcy, there wouldn't be Creation "Science".
Andrew Norman said…
The other objection to Aristotle is that things don't have a purpose. What is the purpose of my hands? If I rest a guitar on my leg to play it, am I using my leg for its true purpose?

Even if we're talking about man-made things which have been made with one particular purpose in their maker's mind, why shouldn't we use them for another purpose? I use a dead computer hard disk as a hammer occasionally. Is that a sin against the Fujitsu corporation?
Anonymous said…
I believe you have your reasoning backwards when you speak about Aquinas presupposing the existence of God in order to justify natural teleology. Aquinas plainly argues in his "Fifth Way" that it is the intrinsic purposes within natural things that points to the existence of a God directing them. Intrinsic purpose proves that God exists, not vice versa. Therefore, it is not necessary to presuppose God to get intrinsic purpose.

In the case of homosexuality, the natural aim of human sexual activity is clearly reproduction. Even our signification "reproductive organs" recognizes this. Aquinas does, as you point out, call homosexuality, masturbation, and other sexual deviations from the marital act sinful because they frustrate God's natural order and thus are affronts to God Himself.

Further, homosexual activity is not akin to walking on one's hands, Aquinas would argue, because there is nothing contrary to the proper use of hands to walk on them. I think the confusion here is between "natural" and "usual." While is is unusual to walk on one's hands, it is not unnatural. With sexual activity, however, Aquinas would say that homosexual activity is unnatural because it deliberately frustrates the instrinsic directedness of sexual activity. In addition, it is impossible for homosexual sex to be sexual activity in the proper sense because the unity inherent in sexual activity is impossible with homosexuality.

I would kindly direct your attention to Dr. Alexander Pruss' article "Christian Sexual Ethics and Teleological Organicity" that develops Aquinas' understanding of human sexuality in order to show the phenomenological insufficiency of sexual acts that either disrupt the unity of husband and wife or deliberately frustrate the natural end of the sexual act in which they participate.
Larry Hamelin said…
Discussing Aquinas on sexuality seems like discussing Newton on Alchemy. Yes, they were smart guys, yes they wrote a lot about it, but so what? Theology in general is just as content-free as alchemy.

To even start to take Aquinas seriously you must first presuppose there really is a God, this God really cares about what we do--especially what we do with our slippery bits--and that we can have any sort of knowledge at all about what God wants. These are some pretty spiky presuppositions to have to swallow (no pun intended) to even begin a discussion.
Anonymous said…
Mike said:
"In addition, it is impossible for homosexual sex to be sexual activity in the proper sense because the unity inherent in sexual activity is impossible with homosexuality".

Oh dearie me, another person denying reality and preferring to believe in fairytales. I suggest that Mike reads Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice To All Creation to gain a clue on just how wonderful and varied sexual activity is in nature. Perhaps Dr. Alexander Pruss would be advised to do the same.
anticant said…
Religious obsession with sexuality is all about control, isn't it?
jeremy said…
Of course, what makes Aquinas' argument so incredibly tedious is that EVEN IF he can make the case for homosexual sex being "unnatural" this STILL cannot be equated logically with being "wrong". This is sometimes expressed in the phrase "You can't get an 'ought' from an 'is'" (paraphrasing Hume) or else given the name "The Naturalistic Fallacy". It's "unnatural" to use antibiotics and thwart "God's plan" for the bacteria, yet few would argue against their judicious use. Equally, it's natural for Chimpanzees to murder Monkeys, yet we would do well not to base our morality on this 'natural example'. The logical bridge between "unnatural" and "wrong" is utterly absent.
jeremy said…
Of course, what makes Aquinas' argument so incredibly tedious is that EVEN IF he can make the case for homosexual sex being "unnatural" this STILL cannot be equated logically with being "wrong". This is sometimes expressed in the phrase "You can't get an 'ought' from an 'is'" (paraphrasing Hume) or else given the name "The Naturalistic Fallacy". It's "unnatural" to use antibiotics and thwart "God's plan" for the bacteria, yet few would argue against their judicious use. Equally, it's natural for Chimpanzees to murder Monkeys, yet we would do well not to base our morality on this 'natural example'. The logical bridge between "unnatural" and "wrong" is utterly absent.
Stephen Law said…
Good point Jeremy. There's a text box on that in the book this is from (forthcoming), but I cut it from this posting.
Anonymous said…
In order to buy your arguments in favor of homosexuality, one would first have to believe that macro-evolution is a fact. No, it is not a reality that things evolved over millions of years. That theory when examined critically has no evidence and is often outright laughable and has nothing but wild speculation to back it up that rests on an assumed philosophy of strict naturalism. You are also ignoring the Christian framework that says that nature was created perfectly with function and purpose but due to the Fall it has been cursed alongside man and is also in a fallen state that can produce unnatural feelings and temptations in human beings.

Since such a discussion on evolution/creation versus the existence of God is beyond the scope of what we can discuss here, perhaps you should concern yourself more with whether Aquinas' arguments make sense within the Catholic framework. You are already presupposing such things as macro-evolution and the non-existence of God for your arguments. While it does give you an excuse not to buy Aquinas' arguments, you have not shown how this is inconsistent within the Christian worldview alongside real operational science (not origins pseudosciences such as macro-evolution. Creationism also falls into this category because it is also an assumped a priori assumption to interpret empirical evidence). The Catholic view of sex is multi-purposed (procreative and unitive, and the unitive aspect involves exclusivity, unconditional commitment, permanence and the openess to life all within the sacrament of marriage.). And at no time should any of those purposes be cut off from one another. They are either all performed together or not at all by abstaining for whatever reasons. The Catholic view of sex is much more complicated than you make it out to be. And assuming there is a God and He is the creator and the Bible presents the accurate story of of what He did and His laws, then what Aquinas says is entirely consistent.

Since you cannot disprove that the Christian worldview is incorrect nor prove your own assumptions about evolution or that God does not exist, you will have to show how he is wrong within his religious framework, otherwise you have no case to say he is wrong other than to assume otherwise. Leave your pre-suppositions at the door. And your emotional feelings and appeals about the situation account for nothing.
Stephen Law said…
Dear anonymous

Thanks for the comment. To be honest, I am never quite sure how to respond to people who share your perspective (and I have talked to very over the last few years).

Tell you what, I will start blogging on creationism shortly, so stay with me and then you can tear me to shreds if you like...

all the best
Anonymous said…
Is the following a possible basis for an argument (not my view) that homosexuality is immoral:

God's will is that we should attempt to have a spiritually meaningful life. One way to do this is to become a Catholic priest or nun or whatever and have a close personal relationship with God, spread the word, and do good works. Celibacy here is excusable/compulsary because sex would be too great a distraction.

Another way is to marry and procreate, following God's instruction to go forth and multiply, and give your love to your wife (the unitive sex thing of our creationist friend above) and children.

While it is possible for members of the laity to remain celibate, either inside or outside marriage, on the whole this is not an attractive option to most people so there is no need for particularly great strictures against it - and a life without sexual pleasures (and other fun prohibited by the church) is conducive to greater spiritual intensity even in the laity.

On the other hand, in a homosexual lifestyle it is not only possible but more likely than not that one will devote one's life to earthly pleasures, and less likely than in a straight relationship that the redemption of unitive love will come along. In that sense homosexuality could be more conducive than otherwise to an unspiritual life, and its prohibition a bit of social engineering by God or his spokesmen.

Echoes of Plato there maybe.

I should emphasise that all this is offered in a spirit of Devil's (or God's) advocate, and I strongly oppose the views of the Catholic Church on this subject, and homophobia in all its forms.
Not exactly errors; but a few inductive distortions or misunderstandings in the arrival at conclusions:

primarily the semen-purpose principle. The argument is that there is either a natural or a moral disorder when semen is not ejaculated where it was naturally intended - for every act of lovemaking must fundamentally respect the gift of life that's been given to the man and his wife and ,if any, their children ; as well as be open to the potential of life - even during pregnancy,post-menopause or infertility the semen must perform an almost 'religious rite' within the receptacle of life. Even where life is not possible, to do anything else would be 'sacrilegious'.

It's this last bit that's been adduced as the Thomistic imperative; please note that it does not preclude any oral or anal sexual activity or mutual masturbation or the use of 'aids' to promote arousal - the only conditional is that during the lovemaking ejaculation occurs once in the vagina. What of multiple ejaculations ? the church is less specific because Aquinas says nothing on it.

Just an aside before I continue - the church considers sex a sacrament - St Paul says lovemaking is where a man and woman are most 'God-like'.

Now when it comes to homosexuals the question must be asked:-
'axiomatically homosexuals cannot intrinsically fully love a partner who can procreate with them; therefore the option of life-sharing through lovemaking is precluded from them. But shouldn't their love and respect to their own life and their partner's life and life in general be fulfilled to its greatest potential - i.e. celebrating his or her life giving potential rather than their life-sharing potential , during lovemaking with their committed monogamous same-sex life partner ?

For catholics the answer is no; because no matter how apparently idealistic and personally fulfilling it may seem it accentuates a sadness and discord; ideally the same-sex partners would intrinsically desire for the natural barriers to be lifted and the impossible could become possible i.e. they could have each other's children. This impossibility is enhanced, brought to the fore through lovemaking and has the potential for being unendurably heartrending and could irrevocably damage the love the partners have for each other.

Significantly the church does not say the same for absolutely infertile heterosexual couples; but they fall back on the principle that this is an impossibility grounded upon biological defect; not an impossibility grounded upon a biological impossibility.

Now when it comes to artificial contraception the argument is simple: Human lovemaking is intrinsically linked with its unitive and procreative aspects. To wilfully deny the respect that life should be afforded is a heinous moral disorder - heterosexuals using artificial contraception deny both unitive and procreative aspects and are thus merely masturbating and using their partner as an end in themselves - to achieve sexual gratification without sharing their total love for the other - depriving their partner of all they have to give, holding something back. The use of artificial contraception is denying life and spitting in the face of God who gives life - and is a graver sin than homosexual acts.

Now when it comes to hiv and AIDS, these are potentially life-threatening diseases which can be transmitted through sexual activity - and nothing can absolutely prevent the risk of contaminating a partner during sex - even if a condom was 99.99% safe [which they most definitely aren't] it would still mean a one in ten thousand chance of possibly giving your partner a death-sentence. If you have a disease that kills through sex , you shouldn't have sex; otherwise you are technically conspiring in murder.

Furthermore, condoms are being used to promote the prevalent extra-marital relationships and the systemic rape of womankind throughout africa. Albeit anecdotal , the main cry from women in the developing world is ironically not for their daughters to be safe from infection and see their children grow up [although they pray for it]; it is for a society where their sons do not grow up to become rapists and abusers of women.

Catholicism will never promote condom use - for it already condemns the life-threatening sex involved before one even gets to condoms - and even though the majority of males refuse to use condoms , giving them condoms gives them free-rein to continue with their reprehensible treatment of women via the male sexual profligacy - this is not like giving heroin-addicts clean needles ; it's more akin to giving them raw opium to make their own.

Of course if you're going to have sex and you're hiv you should use a condom - nobody but an insane damned fool would say otherwise [including the church] - but the church has to affirm that you shouldn't be having sex anyway!!!!

So please, I know you have a specific agenda you wish to follow; it is absolutely utterly fallacious to suggest that the church is opposed to condom use on the grounds of being anti-contraception ; in this situation it is opposed to the use of condoms because it promotes a false security and would technicaly make them culpable of conspiracy in genocide!

Arguing that the catholic church is responsible therefore for the transmission of hiv/A.I.D.S in the devloping world is an absolute red herring. Sex transmits the disease and the church is axiomatically opposed to that form of disrespectful adulterous non-monogamous sex.
In response to Jeremy:
dude, you're arguing against what you think Aquinas is saying using arguments that Aquinas IS saying.

The Naturalistic fallacy derives not from catholic thought but from Stoic pseudo-pantheistic metaphysics enhanced during the renaissance and enlightenment with all its weird offshoots from christian science to eco-terrorism.

Aquinas is actually used by the catholic church to justify its pastoral stance on the treatment of homosexuals - that even though it is a 'natural disorder' for some [like infertility an inability to procreate]; there is no moral disorder , act of volition or personal sin involved.

[of course this does not refute that for a significant amount of 'civilised' homosexuals the influences of nurture,socio-cultural argots and personal choice which would involve some ethical culpability [either collective or personal] as the percentage of homosexuals is significantly higher than the global [clinically psychologically determined] norm]

It's nothing to do with homosexuality and its 'unnaturalness' that has anything to do with being potentially morally disordered.
It's two things:
a] the inability to have kids with the person you love and the potential for this being harmful when accentuated.
b] the abuse of another as an end for ipsissive, selfish, narcissistic destructive sexual gratification - something even more prevalent in the heterosexual world - homosexual sex is not being singled out as a special issue for moral determination.

If you consider the natural world monogamy is an extreme sexual deviance - there are only a handful of species that are monogamous e.g. the black vulture.
Ethologists like Dawkins have a vast array of opinions on the issue - but why is there an almost innate human hostility to/distress in having an adulterous partner ? we use words like cheated, betrayed etc ? maybe like altruism it's a genetic misfiring ? or maybe human ideals have some objective worth outside the mundane ?
Stephen Law said…
couple of questions to onthesideoftheangels:

I've noticed the religious often offer explanations of their views as justifications.

Was your first post an attempt to explain your/Aquinas'/Catholicisms position on homosexuality, or to justify it?

As an explanation, it's interesting. As a justification, it's surely still hopeless, isn't it?

Second, if a justification, are you using it to then defend the Catholic Church's position on condom use re Africa (i.e. "don't use them")?
Have no desire to be impertinent; but if you'd read Humanae Vitae [25 July 1968] art 15 you'd be fully aware that artificial contraception can be used for medical purposes providing its intent is not to prevent conception
e.g. using the pill to regulate ovulation cycles etc.

The message of the church is NOT 'don't use condoms' - it's 'don't have sex if you could kill your partner via infection - because condoms aren't going to stop you infecting or being infected'

you may think this a blinkered pathetic response - but it's the catholic position.

As for the church being unable to condone homosexual acts - I was merely using their responses [grounded in Aquinas] to the plea from many gay catholics 'this love aint wrong - let us love in an emotional abd physical way to the fullest extent - prove our love - we can adopt and have families - let us celebrate our life-giving and our sexuality through lovemaking'

You may think the catholic attitude hardly credible and something which will obviously be ignored among catholic same-sex partners - that may be the case but it doesn't stop the reasoning.

Archaic? sure, the argument has changed little since the fifth century [ref. John Noonan's 'history of contraception'] and Aquinas merely extended it.

But there is one point - please don't forget that even though the secular society et al presume that catholics are obsessed with sexuality ; catholic teaching refers to sexual sins being the least culpable among all sins, for it is where we are at our weakest [ref papal sermons of John Paul I]
Stephen Law said…
Yes, thanks, I was aware of that contraception is permitted under something like these special circumstances:

"artificial contraception can be used for medical purposes providing its intent is not to prevent conception."

Does that mean if the intent in using condoms is to save life, not avoid pregnancy (though it might happen to have that side-effect), it's ok to use them? Would the Church say ok to the use of condoms in a marriage where one partner but not the other has HIV/Aids if the intent was to save life? I'd be interested to know.

Also, you say that the Church's view is:

"condoms aren't going to stop you infecting or being infected"

I believe medical opinion is that condoms can indeed prevent infection, isn't it?

Doesn't this mean the Church's position is wrong?

Lastly, it sounds like you are not defending the position, or attempting to justify it. Just explaining it. Thank goodness for that....
Well yet again I feel compelled to apologise for being forthright but where exactly did you get the idea that medical opinion regardiing condoms is its efficacy in the prevention of infection ?
assuredly it reduces the amount infections amongst the sexually active; but objectively by being a false sense of security it actually causes the transmission of infections to increase.

Cardinal Martini made the very same suggestion over a year ago - condoms in marriage - but the position is fallacious because it is simply not safe !
Say for instance this was pneumonic plague - a single cough near someone's eyes could be a death sentence ? would you be promoting the use of a paper mask where say 95% of the germs were isolated within it ? Or would you be for the immediate quarantining of that contagious individual ?

One of the best friends I'll ever have has hiv and he was always 'safe' until he discovered he wasn't really safe at all.
Had government guidelines promoted non-penetrative sexual activity as the only really safe way to engage in lovemaking for those infected , how many people's lives would have been saved ?
Instead you choose to use it as a stick to beat the church ; no matter how specious or intellectually suspect your argument is it's a good soundbite - vatican approved genocide.

As for your implication that I was merely explaining rather than justifying I was trying to be as objective as possible without allowing my personal feelings on the issue obfuscate things - your abject error in presuming my antipathy to the stance seems to vindicate my attempt's success.

I love my actively homosexual friends but neither condone their sexual activity nor find it completely beneficial to their lifestyle or relationship - that's what you have to understand about catholic teaching regarding morality - it deals with ideals - categorical imperatives where there is no danger whatsoever from acting in a certain way at any time - and sure some of my friends have led truly fulfilled long term same-sex relationships but I have to say [albeit anecdotally] that for the slight majority of my friends there have been periods of both heartbreak and emptiness caused directly and indirectly by having a relationship where there were no chldren and no binding ties for fidelity - so many tears on my shoulder my scapular has salt corrosion. Sure it's the same for heterosexuals the world over, but for homosexuals the risks and potential pitfalls are more defined and pronounced. Some lucky ones get through it all unscarred, but some don't.

All the church is really saying is with the deepest sincerity : 'you've more chance of getting hurt; or worse being responsible for hurting yourself on the way'.

Why do you have to see us as bastards? We're not afraid of homosexuality , nor repulsed by it; the clerics who compile these teachings dwelled in a same sex world for years and probably have more first hand experience of it than any of us [there's wisdom in the confessional]; they are aware of the risks and that some people simply cannot afford to take them without being devastatingly hurt.

That's all. Plus as I said, when it comes to the pecking order for sins - where love, desire and the endocrine system make one do what one does with one's bits - the volition is diminished and although a sinful character is not negated, it can be mitigated to a significantly lesser sin than the spiritual pride, envy, neglect and arrogance we exert in our daily lives.
Stephen Law said…
Hello there on-the-side-of-the-angels. I don't think you are a bastard. Sounds like you're a very concerned and compassionate individual. I was simply unsure what your view was. And also whether you were defending a view. Now I know.

My view, to be blunt, is that your view on condom use is silly and dangerous. So far, I am still looking for a decent (or even half-decent) justification for your view. Yes, You've explained it. But why on Earth should I think it true? It depends crucially on a whole series of assumptions, including (i) there is a God, (ii) this God has certain views about sexual activity (views which even many Christians deny he has, and which I am not aware Jesus said much about) which entail the immorality of homosexual acts, sexual acts outside of marriage, etc.

Incidentally, is it because condoms are not 100% effective in preventing infection, rather than that they might prevent conception, that you say even a married couple one of whom is HIV positive should not use them? What if this couple feel their sex life is important enough (it is, after all, a "sacrement" isn't it? As you yourself said, right?) to make the risk worthwhile?

Would you and the Church say to this couple "OK, have sex if you wish, but not with a condom!"

Again, v. curious to know your answer.... I am assuming your answer is "yes"?

If so, while I'm sure you're a lovely person, I do think your view is odious.
Thankyou for both going out of your way to respond and for assuming I'm 'lovely'; albeit misguided and dangerous with my 'odious' opinions.

I thought I'd already made my position [and the Catholic Church's] clear regarding a married couple where one is h.i.v + ; ordinary penetrative sex is out - whether with or without a condom or a lead-lined diaphragm!
My religious beliefs on this position are frankly irrelevant - as even if I were the most vehement Atheist I would find potentially risking my partner's life being tantamount to conspiracy in negligent homicide.

As for Jesus and homosexuality - yes He was virtually silent on the issue except in Luke where he sees it as acceptable grounds for divorce [as does the Church , in that the marriage is annulled in that one partner was not able to make the vows they made]

Paul was a little more vocal, s were the Church Fathers; but the general catholic position is expressed in the present pope's letter on the pastoral care of homosexuals in the 1980's

were we reverse-mooting I'd have thrown the hypothetical of post-menopausal bisexual parents and widows/widowers who find love after their heterosexual partner's death with a same-sex individual - in what way would their
sexual acts differ from a post-menopausal heterosexual remarried couple ? They would be con-celebrating their life-giving and life-shared capabilities with a loving new life-partner where procreation isn't possible ?

Only by arguing from first principles [like the document argues] can one address this subtle sophistry.

I maintain that although this is relayed in a theistic way; the underlying principles do not require any notion of divinity; merely a 'superstition' of objective morality; or even an atheistic existentialist [intellectually arrogant] moral conclusion and imposition for the 'betterment' of society could adduce such ethical praxis. The problem is that the religious regime has scruples and mercy and a somewhat lenient approach to the weaknesses of the flesh [prayer, penance and self-immolation being the punishments] - the subsequent secular [nominally religious i.e. merely socio-political with a religious veneer] society didn't and the reigns of homophobic paranoia and terror ensued!!!!

I'm reminded of a Lithuanian friend who had great difficulty attaining British nationality even though she was married to an englishman; her Lithuanian son was a homosexual so he claimed Asylum from state cultural homophobia and got his british passport; but twenty years earlier my friend's homosexual brother was arrested by the state police and sent to work on the railways at the siberian prison city of Bam - the atheistic Soviet machine did not approve of 'golden boys'!

If you look at history seriously, you'll discover that across the globe it wasn't until religion or its replacement secular ideology became a nominal faux-state-politique that homophobic torture and execution occurred - Christian purges didn't begin until the late 13th century [and this was after the Pope basically laughed away peter damian's homophobic mania but the civic society didn't] The Islamic world was rife with homosexuality before islam became a state mechanism and we live in a world now where executions/imprisonments are widespread especially in Iran, wahabi Saudi Arabia etc. China was very taoist in its approach - screw who you wish but a total yang-yang lifestyle where you fail to fulfil your duty to procreate was wrong - only when it moved towards ideological maoist purity did the arrests,tortures and executions occur; ditto hanoverian england, revolutionary france, austro-hungary, Nazism and Stalinism, spanish fascism, castro's cuba etc....

equivocating religion with homophobia is frankly fallacious, even when you find evil terrified homophobes among their ranks, it was never the religions that demanded sadistic punitive retribution [excluding the inanities of the US fundamentalists who are american neo-cons first and foremost and use religion as a weapon in their tyranny to implement their social conditioning agendas ]

catholicism does not condone homosexual acts as it is contrary to an idealistic stance they believe is a categorical imperative regarding lovemaking - everything else is limited and therefore risky and open to detrimental effects on the couple or individual.
Disagree with it all you like but you must concur that the motives of catholicism on paper are formulated with good-intent and ideals [however potentially misguided] regarding love.
It was the rise of the totalitarians that led to the assault on homosexuals due to fear, ignorance, revulsion or just plain hatred.

\so sure, denounce catholicism as evil and homophobic for its recalcitrance regarding same-sex marriages or same-sex couples' adopting - but please give some credence to the ideals and principles beneath their reasoning which may be in your sight objectively homophobic, subjectively these people believe they are anything but!
Stephen Law said…
Hello again

You keep saying that the motives of Catholics are being attacked and vilified. Where did I do that? Can you quote, please?

If you can't, can you drop the charge?

I am not interested much in motives, but in what views are held and whether they are correct.

You say:

"I maintain that although this is relayed in a theistic way; the underlying principles do not require any notion of divinity; merely a 'superstition' of objective morality; or even an atheistic existentialist [intellectually arrogant] moral conclusion and imposition for the 'betterment' of society could adduce such ethical praxis."

I take it that means you think a non-theistic justification of your view is possible. Be interested to see it....
Stephen Law said…
Also, a hypothetical question for you. Suppose it could be established that condoms, used in conjunction with, say, a barrier cream, reduce the risk of infection to acceptable levels.

Would you (and the Church?) then recommend their use to my hypothetical couple who are prepared to take that minimal risk, one of whom is HIV positive?
Primarily where did I accuse you of attacking and vilifying?

Secondly, why are you persisting in saying that the church says it's fine for hiv+ infected people to have sex with their spouses providing it's without a condom ?
It's simply not true!!

As for a non-theistic position supporting Catholic moral positions on life, gay sex and contraception - why interesting ? It's not only possible, it exists [and I'm not just referring to state regimes like Ceasescu's Romania] .

Now regarding your hypothetical : the uber-safe form of contraception that prevents and transmission of fluids.
Well catholicism is split on the issue - some conservative rigorists [and I believe incorrectly] follow the principle of utter abstention - other catholic moralists follow the teaching of humanae vitae, evangelium vitae and John paul II's theology of the body in which yes, as conception is potentially lethal it becomes impossible, and sexual intimacy reverts to that of the position of an infertile couple [as it would with a woman who could conceive but never bring a child to viability]- if transmission of infection was impossible then yes, lovemaking would be permissible.
Stephen Law said…
You ask:

"Primarily where did I accuse you of attacking and vilifying?"

Well, you earlier said:

"Why do you have to see us as bastards?"

didn't you? So I understood you to be suggesting I was presenting Catholics as bastards. That I consider Catholics of less than good "intent" and homophobic was also somewhat implied by your later comments.
Stephen Law said…
You ask

"why are you persisting in saying that the church says it's fine for hiv+ infected people to have sex with their spouses providing it's without a condom ?"

I'm not saying that. Where did I say it?

I was asking.

So your view is: if condoms could prevent infection, their use would be acceptable in marriage.

So now let's suppose condoms are 90% effective in preventing infection. That seems an underestimate, in fact. Here's one quote I found: (see http: //

"In a study of discordant couples in Europe, among 123 couples who reported consistent condom use, none of the uninfected partners became infected."

Seems condoms are pretty effective, when used properly, doesn't it?

In which case, were those having sex outside of marriage in Africa to use them, millions of cases of infection could be prevented.

That is current medical opinion, isn't it (at least among non-Catholic experts)?

Let's suppose that is the case, and let's also suppose what seems v likely, that very many Africans are going to continue to have sex outside of marriage, whatever you or the Pope happen to say.

Then why not say, "We'd prefer you not to have sex, but if you are going to, please use a condom"?
Stephen Law said…
Hi onthesideoftheangels. Just dragged this into a main posting. Hope you don't mind.

So what's your non-theistic justification for morally condemning the actively homosexual? I am intrigued to find out!
Timmo said…
So what's your non-theistic justification for morally condemning the actively homosexual?

I think that for many people working in the tradition of natural law, God does not play a central explanatory role in setting up moral prohibitions against homosexual "activities". It has more to do with a correct account of human goods, as Finnis argues here:

Finnis, John (1994) “Law, Morality, and ‘Sexual Orientation’” Notre Dame Law Review 69, pp. 1049-1076
Unknown said…
Mike said...
"I believe you have your reasoning backwards when you speak about Aquinas presupposing the existence of God ..." and " is the intrinsic purposes within natural things that points to the existence of a God directing them...".

Then later Anonymous said...
"And assuming there is a God and He is the creator and the Bible presents the accurate story of of what He did and His laws, then what Aquinas says is entirely consistent."

There we go, a theist presupposing the existence of God to support Aquinus. What a surprise!

Here's the general gist of the thist argument:

1 - Declare that god exists because something like Aquinus's "Fifth Way" proves it (or scripture or some other dubious source)
2 - Various philosophers/logicians demonstrate how flawed are the arguments therin.
3 - Drag up more similar poor arguments...
N - Still insist that God exists - How?...
N+1 - Hope everyone has forgotten point 2 and declare He exists because Aquinus in his "Fifth Way"...
Anonymous said…
I am not interested much in motives, but in what views are held and whether they are correct.
Car Finance Team agreed to Aristotle’s vision of the world
Clearly, some naturally things do have a function. Legs are for walking and running. Teeth are for biting and chewing. Hearts are for pumping blood. But what of clouds, pebbles and mountains? Are they, too, for something? of course...and so on

That is simple thinking, i am a simple person. So homosexuality is no's very complicated to

Good luck
Anonymous said…
Good job!
Anonymous said…
Thanks to author.
Greg Graham said…
Prohibition of condemn use is a very small part of Catholic teaching on sexuality, and I think it only makes sense in the context of the complete teaching. If all of humanity followed Catholic teaching on sexuality, which includes prohibition of sex outside of marriage and the permanence of marriage, there would be no AIDS epidemic.
Ed Night said…
You butt surfers should listen to the excuses of murderers and rapists, they have purposes too!
Ed Night said…
Aquinas justified the basic understanding of what homosexual acts consisted is quite clear in the statement, that the different organs of the human body had a specific function. Therefore it is redundant to specify that the anus was not ment to be used as a vagina and so on. Also it was quite understood that disease was related to deviant sexual behavior including prostitution, it was also well known that incest was not a healthy practice, nor was sex with animals. The lack of these deviant behaviors mentioned by Aquinas were well documented by other philosophers and because the intellectuals of the time understood these things simultaniously while discussing the finer points of this Incontrovertible evidence, in that these deviant behaviors had no value or place in a civilized society.

The idea that contraceptives are not the proper solution is because of the abuses involved with prostitution, rape, sex-slaves, child-rape, disease and crime connected to the sex industry and that polygamy causes inbreeding and incest, both major problems that are perpetuated and civilizations suffer along with humans. And again the intellectuals involved need not explain these effects because it is already understood as the purpose that these things be prevented in society and thats a fact.

Walking on your hands is the most asanine arguement for the simple reason that evan as an infant we learn to walk from using our hands to crawl upon not to mention climbing a mountain rock face or even as far as suggesting the way primates use their hands in walking on all fours, it would be a better argument to say technologies in use today are not naturally occuring either, but we use it and abuse it also. Com'on use your common sense and quit making lame excuses for deviant behavior like animals do it, animals also kill and eat their young should that be accepted in human society just because cannibal pigmys do it. Mentally retarded and genetically diseased people should not procreate for common sense reasons also, and you still have sexually deviant acts committed against them, should this be allowed in a civilized society, NO! it should not.

More asininity in claiming an occasional homosexual fling is harmless, its sheer absurdity by the logic that it only takes one time to contract an S.T.D. & in Aquinas' time there was no penicillan. The intellectuals knew that If you are dumb enough to risk your life, then evolution and common sense dictates survival of the fittest and that it is useless explaining a thing to someone who refuses to learn a thing, Therefore deviation from a natural thing equals the wrong way to do a thing and so an unnatural thing is wrong. If you can explain a wrong into a right, then someone can explain random homicide as right, when it is clearly a wrong simply by self evident truth.

Simply because we have technology and that pacifistic propaganda surrounds the most deviant behavior of all, it is still not accepted as normal and just because it is politically incorrect to not be openly against homosexuality it is wrong to say it is accepted by more people because those people are afraid to say so. An unnatural act is- to standby while a crime is being committed when preventing it is possable, therefore it is wrong. It is easy to say religion is wrong because it is corrupt when It is correct to say corrupt people hide behind religion to gain their degenerate desires, & it is wrong to say otherwise and only a corrupt person would do so.
Ed Night said…
If we lack grounds to say god exists or god is right, why even bring god into it, if we lack the moral grounds to say anything is wrong, we also then lack the moral grounds to enforce laws against slavery, to which common sense dictates certain things are needed for social cohesion of which homosexuality is still un-necessary and unwanted. Which is more wrong, 90% of society to request 10% to conform. Or 10% of society to demand 90% be forced to comply, Talk'n bout dominate and subjugate, homosexuals are bought and sold by homosexuals for a pack of cigarettes while in prison for homosexual rape of a child, man/boy & woman/girl.

Intellectualy inclined people understand that consciousness of the human condition dictates that rules must be established so people can live in a humaine society and that animalistic behavior is unacceptable and any compromise regardless of science or technology still undermines civilized behavior and that homosexual deviation includes dominative and subjugative behavior more so than heterosexuality, especially when 80% of that 10% homosexual population have criminal obsessive compulsive emotional disorders & that the 2% of clean-cut prudent homosexuals fail to admit too in open debate.

Philosophy is not exclusive to only the moral minded, it can be used or should I say abused by individuals lets say like Hitler's nazi propagandists in such as saying common sense is just foolishness, by simply reversing the lies you can judge the self evident truth. If homosexuality were outlawed and criminalized, society would loose nothing, its self-evident. If homosexuality were legalized and enforced society would see more sex crimes become decriminalized and civilization would be put at risk, just because of 10% of the human populations sexually obsessive compulsive demands for the abnormal being accepted as normal, this too is self evident and again only corrupt persons would want this.

It is to this question that you must ask yourself, consider that the argument against is correct, and assume the evidence is undeniable and make the same conclusion that the other side is either lieing about not understanding, refuting the truth for personal reasons or just is not able to comprehend the reality envolved.

A decision must be made without compromise or the controversy will never be concluded because it concerns the human condition. Where is the weight of the issue, and how many will be adversly affected by the final analysis.

The proper solution simply solves the most problems and causes the least problems, without having to continue a forced existence.
Unknown said…
1. It is sinful to use a part of the body contrary to its intended function.

2. Therefore, it is sinful to not use a part of the body for its intended function.

3. Catholic priests are forbidden to use their reproductive organs for their natural function.

4. Therefore, Catholic priests are sinful?
Anonymous said…
Imagine things are the other round. 99% of the world population is homosexual. Human kind will be extinct. Given this scenario, then wouldn't homosexuality be unatural because by reason, it will lead to the descrution or discontinuation of life. On the other hand, we are made to be hetrosexual...and as such have the ability to procreate and produce more humans that promotes the continuation of human kind.
What is your counter argument to this?
Unknown said…
What is the purpose of foreskin. Why is it removed. Is this not a sin?
Josephus said…
Just a note that Aquinas does prove that God exists in the very beginning of his 'Summa Theologica' by giving 5 proofs. Also, the Catholic Church takes it as a doctrine of faith that God's existence can be proved by such proofs basing itself on Romans 1:20 (which speaks of people who rejected the evidence of God and thus were allowed to turn to others of the same sex for sexual gratification contrary to nature). Regarding foreskin, it's role is relatively insignificant compared to the role of semen.
Josephus said…
Just a note that Aquinas does prove that God exists in the very beginning of his 'Summa Theologica' by giving 5 proofs. Also, the Catholic Church takes it as a doctrine of faith that God's existence can be proved by such proofs basing itself on Romans 1:20 (which speaks of people who rejected the evidence of God and thus were allowed to turn to others of the same sex for sexual gratification contrary to nature). Regarding foreskin, it's role is relatively insignificant compared to the role of semen.
Patrick B. Maxwell said…
From a philosophical stand point there is necessity and accident to be considered.
Necessity of function would be that which the limb, (leg for example)was created for. In this case to walk or otherwise motivate the body. Without that function the leg is useless. Accidents are those uses which the leg could function very well without. Take supporting a musical instrument, for example. A sin would constitute any deliberate impedance of the necessary function. To deliberately disable the leg would be a grave sin. The necessary function of semen is to reproduce the species. To deliberately impede that function is sin.
Stephen Law said…
Thanks Patrick. What about ear plugs then?
Stephen Law said…
Josephus - if the proofs are there in Aquinas, why are only less than 15% of professional philosophers theists (let alone theists who think Aquinas's arguments succeed)? Are they blinded by sin?
Anonymous said…
Dear Dr Stephen Law,
I bought your book as this article was published on great philosophers and read the one on Aquinas and this article matches that chapter. Per your chance that some of RC stance on sexual ethics might be off or misrepresented in the article, I did read in Pope St John Paul II's encyclical (a great modern Thomist by the way) Veritatis Splendor, paragraph 47- ; and then paragraph 112 are an invite to go deeper or beyond the merely biological/ empirical sciences when it comes to morality and Church's view on the natural law. I recommend it.
Thank you for your kind attention,
Rene L
Anonymous said…
for me, it's really just love...i just want to love and be kind and be supportive of the person i'm attracted the soul i'm happy and compatible with...if two strangers have it for each other, are they harming themselves? are they harming anyone?

two people just want to take care of each other...what is the evil in this?
Unknown said…
I wish I had your kindness,

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