25 May 2016

More on Catholic Sexual Morality: The Natural Function Argument

Consider the right-making feature on the Catholic view. Arguably, I misstated it in the column. Here is a statement of the Catholic view from a site on catechisms. 


In order to be moral, each and every sexual act must be marital and unitive and procreative. This is the threefold object of every moral sexual act. This natural sexual act is procreative precisely because it is inherently directed toward procreation. In other words, it is the type of act that is intrinsically ordered toward the good end of creating new life. But even when this act does not or cannot achieve this good end (its moral object), the act remains inherently ordered toward that same end, and so it retains that good, the procreative meaning, in its moral object. An act does not have to achieve its moral object to be inherently ordered toward its moral object.

There are, as far as I can tell, three possible explanations of what makes a sex act between infertile or no longer fertile couples inherently ordered toward procreation. 

1. Attitude. The sex act is inherently ordered toward procreation because couple has some attitude toward conception.   

2. Possibility. The sex act is inherently ordered toward procreation because  it is possible that the sex act cause conception. Perhaps this should be interpreted as metaphysical possibility given the couple's physiological makeup. 

3. Act-Type. The sex act is inherently ordered toward procreation because the act-type is such that it can, in others, cause conception. 

I should have mentioned option (3). This is likely closest to what the doctrine is, although other parts of the Catholic doctrine suggest that it is (1). This can be seen in the overlap with the doctrine of double effect and its relation to sex. 

Is the missionary position the only moral sexual position?

No. Any sexual position of natural genital-to-genital intercourse between a husband and wife thereby retains the marital, unitive, and procreative meanings, and so would have a good moral object. But to be moral, each and every knowingly chosen act, in addition to having a good moral object, must also have good intention, and the good consequences must outweigh any bad consequences.

(3) is implausible because the inherent rightness of one act should not depend on the features of other acts.  

The smaller problem I have with (3) is that it begs the question. There has to be some feature of it that makes non-marital-and-vaginal sex wrong in the standard cases. Here I suspect it has to be either the attitude (1) or the possibility of conception (2) and so (3) would have to be filled out via (1) and (2). 

In any case, I should have mentioned (3). 

The principle that best fits and justifies these rules is something like a positive attitude toward new life, metaphysical openness to reproduction, or, perhaps, a view of organs as having a natural function. I think this because the difference between man-made and natural ways of preventing pregnancy would not explain why bestiality and masturbation are grave sins. My guess is that there is a unified explanation as to why they and using contraception are sinful. 

Perhaps the natural function view of organs does the justificatory work, but it is mysterious how an organ can have a function other than God's design and evolution. 

Note this is written in response to some extremely helpful comments by Ray Belliotti. 

Catholic Thought on Sexual Morality: Metaphor and Confusion

Stephen Kershnar
Catholic Sexual Morality: Both Confused and False
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
May 24, 2016

            Catholic morality plays a large role in American life. Almost a third of Congress is Catholic as were over a third of Republican presidential candidates (Bush, Christie, Jindal, Pataki, Rubio, and Santorum). The current Speaker of the House (Paul Ryan) is Catholic. So was his predecessor (John Boehner) and the leader of the opposition (Nancy Pelosi). Until Antonin Scalia’s death, two thirds of the Supreme Court were Catholic. Pope Francis announced that Donald Trump is not a Christian because he wants to build a wall and this announcement got major airtime. This matters to the extent Catholic thought affects how people think about their lives. One area where it might do so is Catholic thought on sexual morality.

            The Catholic Church asserts that sexual intercourse is morally wrong if it is disconnected its purposes: unifying a married couple and procreation. More specifically, sex is permissible only if involves a husband and wife engaged in complete mutual self-giving and opening their relationship to new life. It further holds that sex within marriage involves a chaste and deeply personal unity. So deep in fact that it forms a union in one flesh. This joining occurs in part because marriage is a sign of love between God and humanity.

The Church has grave moral concern about sex when it occurs outside of marriage or when the procreative function is frustrated (for example, via contraception). Its list of grave sexual sins includes adultery, artificial contraception, premarital sex, homosexual sex, masturbation, and pornography. It hammers homosexuality, viewing it as an objective disorder and instructs gays to rely on prayer, friends, and grace so that they may be chaste. On the Catholic view, lust is also wrong, although it is unclear whether it is a type of adultery as Matthew 5:27-28 claims. Masturbation is wrong because it is type of lust. So terrible is pornography that the Church calls for the governments to prevent its production and distribution. Abortion is not merely a grave sin, but also is punishable by excommunication.

This sexual doctrine is false and destructive. 

First, it is not even clear what the doctrine is. The notion that sex must have a procreative purpose could be understood as saying the couple must be open to procreation (that is, think a certain way about sex) or that it could in fact lead to procreation regardless of how the couple thinks about sex.

The notion that a couple must think that their sex could lead to procreation in order to be morally permissible is implausible. It suggests that one married couple’s sex could be permissible because they hope to procreate whereas a second married couple’s sex is not because they hope not to procreate. It is hard to see why the way in which a couple thinks about sex makes their activity right or wrong. Normally, we think that what makes an act wrong is that it does something objectionable to another, for example, it violates her right, harms her, or exploits her. These features are independent of what an actor wants or intends to do.

Furthermore, if an elderly married couple or a couple in which the wife has lost her uterus due to surgery to fight ovarian cancer wants or hopes to procreate, then they are irrational. It is an odd view that sex is wrong for such couples unless they think about sex in an irrational way.
If instead sex is permissible only if it can in fact lead to procreation, then sex between infertile married couples (for example two 55-year-olds) is a grave wrong. The same is true for a couple that has sex after the wife has had an oophorectomy. Such a doctrine is not merely absurd, but cruel.

On either interpretation, the treatment of gays is outrageous. As far as I can tell, there is no reason, conceptually or empirically, to think that gay people cannot have deeply satisfying relationships and that sex does not enhance these relationships. There is a shortage of evidence, but an initial study of divorce in gay marriage by Lee Badgett and Jody Herman of the Williams Institute found that gay married couples had a divorce rate similar to that of different sex couples. It should be noted that the data is early on and there might be a selection bias. A group should have a good reason before it announces that gay people must remain chaste and that physically expressing their love is a grave moral sin.

Furthermore, the metaphysics of the Catholic doctrine make no sense. A couple, married or not, do not become one thing (for example, one flesh). During sex, they still have different bodies, minds, and souls (if people have souls). There is no plausible way to understand the claim that they become one thing. Of course, this might be mere metaphor, but it is hard to see why a mere metaphor should be the basis for sexual morality. This is especially true if the metaphor is nonsensical.

The Catholic view is also at odds with the most basic understanding of human nature. One study by psychology professor Terri Fischer, reported in Psychology Today, found that men think about sex about once or twice an hour. This is unsurprising given that evolution is driven by reproductive fitness and a reasonably strong interest in sex likely increases reproductive fitness. There is good reason to believe that this sex drive is genetic and probably beyond people’s immediate control. The notion that lust is wrong is bizarre given that mere thoughts do not infringe on anyone’s rights or harm, offend, or exploit them. It is also bizarre given that wrong acts are usually, if not always, under people’s control.

Catholicism, and to be fair much of Christianity and Judaism, has an obviously false view of sexual morality. As a result, we should ignore the Catholic view on the matter and hope our lawmakers do the same. The fact that 95% of Americans have had premarital sex tells us that, thankfully, people are in fact ignoring it.

12 May 2016

The Jews are a driving force for the left

Stephen Kershnar
Why are Jews so far left?
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
May 8, 2016

            There is a mystery as to why Jews, the highest earning religious group, are a driving force for the left in American politics. Their voting pattern makes no sense, both because it goes against their interest, but also because it rests on implausible views of the free markets and foreign wars.

            Jews are 2.2% of the American population. Compared to other religious groups, they make more money, are better educated, and have fewer children. According to the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life, Jews are the highest earning religious group in America by a wide margin. Nearly one out of two members of the Jewish working population makes $100,000 or more. This dwarfs the national average. Fewer than one out of five working Americans make this much money.

They are the second most educated group (after Hindus) with more than a third having gone graduate work. They also have the lowest birth rate of any religious group.

            There is a debate as to what drives these high incomes. There is likely a genetic component to it. Jews are a genetically distinct grouping. Nicholas Wade notes that members of any Jewish community are as closely related to each other as fourth or fifth cousins, which is about 10 times higher than the relationship between any two people chosen at random off the streets of New York City. According to Charles Murray and John Entine, Jews’ middle IQ range (107-115) is well above the average and on some estimates the range is even higher.  

            Jews are on average leftists. In every election since 1916, with one exception, they’ve given a clear majority of their vote to the Democratic presidential candidate. The one exception was the first Reagan election when they gave the Democrat (Jimmy Carter) a plurality of their votes. They gave roughly 80% of their votes to Barack Obama in his first presidential election and roughly 70% in the second.

Jews constitute 10% of the Senate and 9 of them are far left Democrats. The 10th is socialist Bernie Sanders. They also include some of the most grating-and-obnoxious people in politics, including Chuck Schumer, Rahm Emanuel, and Debby Wasserman-Schultz. They’re 6% of the House (26 representatives) are all are Democrats. They constitute a third of the Supreme Court and all three are lockstep leftist justices.

Ron Kampeas of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency claims that 2/3 of the Democrats’ funding comes from Jews. I should note that I cannot find an academic source to confirm that number.

            Voting for Democrats harms their interests in several ways. First, the tax code is highly progressive in that the richer you are the more taxes you pay both as a percentage and total amount. So in voting for Democrats, Jews are, in effect, voting for higher taxes on themselves. The left’s relentless push to dramatically increase education spending and to transfer money from those with no underage children to those with them and punishes groups with fewer young children, such as Jews.

Second, the bane of Jewish success in the professions (medicine, law, and investment banking) is affirmative action and yet Jews continually support politicians that want to transfer educational positions from, on average, Asians and Jews with higher scores to blacks, Hispanics, and poor people with lower ones.

Third, it is clear that the Republican Party is far more supportive of Israel than is the Democratic Party (see, for example, the Obama administration) and yet Jews lavished money and votes on the latter.  

            One explanation for this far left political culture is that Jews view themselves as outsiders in American society and feel that the government protects outsiders. Alternatively, their left-wing views might stem from their having been concentrated in left-dominated urban settings, such as New York City and Baltimore. The problem with the first theory is that the same is not true for other outsiders who now vote Republican (for example. Mormons). The problem with the second is that it is unclear why they would have stuck to positions that are no longer in their interest.   
            A second explanation is that their sharp minds approve of the Democratic Party’s progressive ideas. The problem with this explanation is that the advantage of freedom over government control and capitalism over socialism is well-established and hence not something that bright people should be attracted too. Worse, their horrendous history in socialist countries (see, for example, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union) and countries with authoritarian rulers (see, for example, Czarist Russia) should have taught them that too much government control is a danger to them. In any case, the childish positions of politicians like Bernie Sanders (massive increases in payroll and corporate taxes and a 90% tax rate on the rich) should not appeal to anyone over age seven. That is, their voting pattern is remarkably uninformed by empirical findings, morality, or their European history.

            A third explanation is that there is a political ideology that has taken root in the Jewish psyche much as humor plays such a large role in their culture. The role of humor can be seen in the large number of comedians who were and are Jewish. This is in contrast to things such as professional sports where they are nearly absent. For example, surprisingly few Jews play in the NFL, NBA, and MLB, fight in the UFC, or win other prestigious athletic titles. I should note that a third of NFL teams and one half of NBA teams are owned by Jews. In some years, Jews are more likely to own one of these teams than play for them. Perhaps this embedded of ideology in the culture explains their voting pattern. It would explain the strange persistence of left-wing voting, even as the American left becomes increasingly hostile to their interests and, in fact, their country’s interest. It would also fit nicely with Jews’ historic leadership in other leftist causes such as the labor, civil rights, and the women’s movements.

            This explanation is not very satisfying, but likely the best of the lot.