Our Catholic World News service has already reported—and Phil Lawler has already commented—on President Biden’s unfortunate and morally confused declaration when he signed the new and morally inventive Respect for Marriage Act. In doing so, he claims to have struck “a blow against hate in all its forms” because “racism, antisemitism, homophobia, transphobia, they’re all connected”.
What I wonder is why a president of the United States cannot think clearly about morality. It would seem to be the first requirement of sound government.
First of all, of course, the language of our dominant secular and relativist culture has been deliberately stacked against morality as known through the Natural Law. To describe opposition to homosexual acts and transexual bodily mutilation as a “phobia”, which is most succinctly defined as “an extreme or irrational fear”, is already a deliberate distortion of moral discourse. It is designed to shame those who are in fact opposed to particular behaviors not because they are afraid of those who practice them but because the behaviors themselves are immoral and destructive. This is nothing but how people distort language when they wish to justify the indefensible. We could just as stupidly speak of “murderophobia” or “abusaphobia”. No intelligent person can possibly resort to this sort of name-calling without knowing that he or she is deliberately biasing the discussion—shifting it from moral discourse to shaming discourse.
We might as well simply say that those who oppose immoral behavior do so only because they are afraid of what they find “different”, in the same way that a person who grew up on a desert island might be uncomfortable with ice or the color green. It is utter nonsense.
Physical attributes, moral acts and rationalization
Many years ago a proper distinction used to be made between a person’s physical characteristics and a person’s moral decisions. To be a racist is to demean and disparage others because of the color of their skin, over which they have no control and which has no moral significance. Nor does skin color determine whether a person is human or not, any more than does eye or hair color, or height and weight, or brain function, or biological sex. Contrariwise, to be a so-called “homophobe” really means to be opposed to the way a person acts—not even a person’s psychological predispositions (or temptations), but simply the moral decisions the person makes and therefore the actions he or she performs.
It is important to maintain such a distinction if we are to engage in intelligible moral discourse. The first rule of intelligible moral discourse is that the desire to do something does not make it morally right to do it. The human person—even including Christ and Our Lady—has been and will be subject to temptation in the course of life. The vast majority of us are aware of at least many of our own habitual temptations, our own difficulties in avoiding doing wrong and in choosing to do what is right. And we all—excepting perhaps those suffering from severe mental deficiencies—are aware of the difference between right and wrong, good and evil.
One of the first experiences nearly everyone has of interior moral conflict is the process of rationalization, by which from a very early age we seek to justify our actions when we choose to do something we really know is wrong. This is a universal experience, and the process of rationalization may be described fairly simply in this way:
- We desire something; that is, our will is attracted to it.
- We have the sense that what we desire is wrong; that is, our intellect offers reasons not to pursue what we desire.
- But our will refuses to act on these reasons; instead, it rejects the judgment of the intellect and insists that the intellectual faculty be used instead to justify the illicit desire.
The result, arising from the moral failure of the will, is the intellectual sin of rationalization. If we grow spiritually and morally as human persons, then over time we learn to recognize rationalization and dismiss it through a combination of sound moral analysis, deepening convictions, and strong habits. We become persons in which all faculties act together in harmony—that is, persons of integrity. But if we decide to roll with the rationalizations, we gradually descend into intellectual darkness. For example, we start equating racism with “homophobia” and “transphobia”, and this for no better reason than that, in the face of our own desires for either immoral actions or social approval, we become progressively more and more willful—and progressively less and less intelligent as well.
But this is the opposite of integrity; it is a personally disintegrative process by which we become the suffering victims of our own passions. We become less and less capable, without significant intervention, of developing our moral faculties and shaping our own desires into a harmonious human wholeness. We fall from depth to depth, all the while reshaping our use even of human language to deflect the blame to others. We must now not only sin but be considered right and good by others in the very act of our sinning. We begin to believe that the key to our own happiness is not a rejection of our own sins but rather the establishment of a series of conventions and laws which prevent anyone else from telling the truth.
Once again I quote St. John the Evangelist, from the early part of his Gospel where it is not always clear when he is quoting Christ and when he is simply explaining Christ:
And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. [Jn 3:19-20]
This is not only Spirituality 101 but it is basic human psychology. The very same thing may be said as much of our relationship with the natural law as of our relationship with God Himself.
Insistence on moral clarity
Moral clarity comes only through the recognition of rationalization as an intellectual sophistry which demands both fuzzy and false speech. To use language that obliterates moral arguments through words and phrases deliberately coined to obscure reality is merely the willful assault of the rationalizer against the moral order, so that the rationalizer can be comfortable with his guilt. The use of such language is both a disservice to our own moral nature and an assault on the moral nature of everyone else.
That politicians should use such language in an effort to justify their own agendas and secure their own popularity is nothing new, and certainly every human culture has had its linguistic tricks for obscuring reality and describing wanton desires as necessary virtues. Using the name “Respect for Marriage Act” for a law which denies the very nature of marriage and family life is a new low, but we have already seen in terms such as homophobia and transphobia that those who lead our dominant culture today are very deliberately intent on redefining reality to justify their own wayward desires—whether it be a desire for the personal immorality of new forms of sexual abuse, or that other less-direct desire which is so common, perhaps especially in our own time. I mean the desire to be accepted by the cool kids in the class.
This is the desire, on the part of those who are rather obviously now in flight from God, to eagerly embrace dominant-culture language which keeps God, Christianity, and the Natural Law at a distance—the ever lengthening distance needed to make them feel safe from censure. The sheer intellectual hypocrisy of our era is nothing short of astonishing. Even the majority of those who assume the Catholic name instinctively recoil against any defense of Christian morality.
To the contrary, we owe it not only to God but to ourselves, our families and our communities to think clearly and use language truthfully. We may suppose that God knows where we really stand. But if others are in doubt, then what God knows may not be what we think He knows.
To truly respect others, we must recognize that moral clarity is a requirement of love.
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