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Title: Thinking straight about being gay : natural law theory and the new homosexual essentialism
Author: Murray, T. M.
ISNI:       0000 0004 2747 0635
Awarding Body: Oxford Brookes University
Current Institution: Oxford Brookes University
Date of Award: 2011
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This thesis traces the historical demoralization of homosexual activity as it developed in Christian naturalist ethics from the beginnings of Christianity until modem times. The focus of the thesis is not an exhaustive study of all variants of Christian prohibitionist attitudes towards homosexual activity. Rather I am looking at the role of natural law ethical reasoning and how this philosophical approach to ethics has evolved alongside our changing understanding of biological aspects of human sexual behaviour. In chapter one my aim is to historicise 'nature' to demonstrate that a variety of anthropological archetypes have held sway at various times in the history of Western thought, each with different answers to the question of how human nature relates to the rest of the natural world and the causal laws that govern it. I wish to suggest that there is a long standing controversy over whether a human ethical ideal can rest upon a biological understanding of our nature, or whether moral ideals must rest upon voluntary aspects of behaviour. Misrepresentations of the relationship between the natural and the normative have resulted in ethical confusion. The purpose of this thesis is to dismantle several misinterpretations of this relationship that have been deployed in Christian discourse, both past and present, to stigmatise or demoralise homosexual behaviour. In Chapter two I move out from a general historicization of human nature to a specific instance of how the relationship between the natural and the 'good' was misrepresented within Christian teaching. I argue that St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, Chapter 1, established a particularly pernicious precedent, as he was not merely arguing from ignorance of homosexual orientation, but establishing a form of naturalism that actively promoted it. In spite of this, Paul's reasoning did not prevent the Roman Catholic Church from adapting its doctrine in 1975 to new empirical research in sexology and psychology. While Persona Humana tentatively accepted the distinction between homosexuality as transitory behaviour and homosexuality as definitive of the person, it pathologized the homosexual's innate sexual orientation in the same stroke, calling it "incurable" and "intrinsically disordered". The church's reasoning was that non- procreative sexual activity represents a misuse of the sexual faculty and act. Following revisionist Catholic theologians Curran, Fuchs, McCormick, et. al., this thesis argues that Christian sexual ethics, especially in Catholic doctrine, have given disproportionate emphasis to involuntary biological functions in the moral assessment of sexual conduct. Chapter four presents a range of arguments to demonstrate that the 'new natural law' approach to Christian sexual ethics (advanced by Grisez, Finis and their followers) not only fails to overcome the problems that beset the traditional version of natural law, but adds several more of its own. Both represent attempts to ground positive law or normative ethics in a reified theological naturalism. As research methods improved, a new 'gay science' emerged in the nineteen nineties, strengthening the case for homosexual essentialism. Geneticists even suggested the possibility of a so-called 'gay gene'. This set the Christian prohibitionist's assertions that homosexual orientation is an 'objective disorder' in tension with traditional understandings of 'health' as acting in accordance with one's given nature (unless there are good other-regarding reasons not to). It seemed the new 'gay science' of the late twentieth century threatened to destabilize the Christian demoralization of homosexual activity. The 'preceptive' natural law ethic that had become established in Church doctrine exhorted Christians to 'read the language of the body in truth'. With the genetic code being metaphorically described as 'the book of life' and with scientists implying that homosexuality might be found hidden in one of its chapters, the preceptive model appeared to fail on its own terms. I contend that Christian ethicists needed, but failed, to explain why homosexuality is 'disordered' in terms extrinsic to the homosexual person (ie. in terms of the 'harmful' behaviour to which it leads). I stress that failure to do so makes the moral case against homosexual activity so weak as to be redundant in modem liberal democracies. The recent convergence of reproductive technology and genetic research makes the demand to decide the role that biology ought to play within a proper understanding of the human subject ever more urgent. Constructionists cannot deny that there has been ample discussion, even if misguided or fantastical, about whether gay identity can be 'mapped' onto a set of genetic or biological markers. In chapter five, this thesis presents an unprecedented survey of Christian bioethical responses to this possibility, showing how Christian ethical thinking evolved and transformed alongside the new 'gay science' by emphasizing how biotechnology might facilitate human interventions into creation in order to 'restore' it to 'its full glory'. I maintain that this tacit reversal of the 'preceptive' natural law approach has not been openly acknowledged, nor critically assessed. The authors I examine not only suggest, implicitly or explicitly, that homosexuality represents the kind of pathology that would be an acceptable target for reprogenetic modification, but they also play influential roles in shaping public policy on these issues, in both the United States and the UK. I emphasise how Christian conservatives have laid the discursive groundwork for a eugenic age. In chapters five and six I demonstrate how they anticipate a future in which they will have at their disposal a means of avoiding the dilemma between the desire to promote their own theological versions of public morality and the dominant liberal injunction to protect the sovereignty and liberty of the individual. The final chapter shifts to a discussion of 'liberal eugenics'. In the past, liberals worried about the intrusion of the state into the private lives of individuals. Today, I am suggesting that they may have to worry about the opposite: personal reproductive decisions made in the privacy of a consultant's office could have an irreversible impact on public life and future generations. 'Liberal eugenics' leaves eugenic decisions to the market, driven by the demands of consumers and regulated only by the discretion of parents. This thesis builds upon and expands existing arguments against liberal eugenics (eg. Habermas, Sandel, Fukuyama). It also goes beyond the existing critics by stressing how 'liberal eugenics' diverge from Mill's classic liberal values in several respects, and urges that a principled line can and should be drawn between beneficial therapeutic and illegitimate eugenic uses of biotechnology. I conclude that homosexuality falls on the illegitimate eugenic side of that line, as do any biological targets perceived to influence the behavioural patterns of the subject/patient. Like Pauline soteriology, a eugenics aimed at correcting or improving human behaviour from without threatens to demolish the modem concept of human beings as autonomous agents, possessing both biological urges and the ability to learn, choose and take responsibility for their actions. I stress that the attenuation of our collective belief in human beings' autonomy and responsibility poses a threat to the human rights that are their logical corollary.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available