Friday, January 01, 2010

Robert George and the Manhattan Declaration

I wrote this a while ago, and honestly I was going to dump it, but now that his name has come up again -

Robert George, a Princeton professor and a Catholic, drafted the text of the Manhattan Declaration.
    We are Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical Christians who have united at this hour to reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in defending them. These truths are:
    1. the sanctity of human life
    2. the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife
    3. the rights of conscience and religious liberty
Who knows what curiosity lead me to read a part of Body-Self Dualism in Contemporary Ethics and Politics by Patrick Lee and Robert George. I have been astounded to find out that the authors suggest in this book that there are four types of nonmarital sex acts: masturbation (solitary or mutual) sodomy, fornication, and adultery.

I have read just enough to understand that this means that an orgasm facilitated by oral or manual stimulation is on the same level as intercourse between persons of the same sex. Even within marriage, these kinds of acts should not be participated in, since they are depersonalizing, even if these acts were undertaken out of love. George argues that the participants do not experience pleasure "as a unit."

He elsewhere explains that only sex which is of the same type as procreative sex, is actually marital sex. The couple must experience pleasure "as a biological unit" that is having procreative type sex, in order for it to count as marital sex.

Since George firmly labels the procreative act "pleasure," I have reread a few paragraphs in a vain attempt to figure out whether George considers sex without simultaneous orgasm to be marital sex. In this case, only those children who were the product of a simultaneous orgasm would be considered to be the product of a marital union. I don't think he goes this far.

(It appears from the way George writes the book, that the male is assumed to be experiencing pleasure during sexual activity; the act itself is labeled "pleasure." But there is nothing which explicitly establishes the status of a sex act in which the female does not experience pleasure. There seems to be an unwritten assumption that it is "pleasure" as long as "semen is deposited in the vaginal tract" (this is how the two become "one flesh." ) This justifies the status of this act over and above one in which manual stimulation is involved. There is a complete lack of female perspective in this book, IMO. Sorry to be so graphic, folks, but there isn't an easy way to water this down.)

To tell the truth, I am having trouble believing that I actually read a part of this book, .... but I was curious about the Manhattan Declaration. When it talks about the "dignity of marriage and the conjugal union" George means "no homosexual activity" and "no masturbation," mutual or otherwise. And to think that churches are splitting over the former but not over the latter. Sheesh.

Note: I have since discovered that Robert George approves of oral stimulation as part of foreplay, but not as the culminating act itself. George also allows that intercourse with a woman over 50 is okay as long as it is of the type that imitates procreative sex. I am not sure who we are kidding here, Robert.

I also have to ask what George would say to two old folks fondling each other in bed but never getting to the point of "laying down semen in the vaginal track." Oops. I mean "tract." Oh bother - commenters, don't anyone please let me know your personal habits here. Please.


Bob MacDonald said...

God knows better than these writers about what is pleasure - whether it is by the death of Messiah in the Spirit or at a well where the water is served by Anointed to Anointed.

Is death specifically male? As Circumcision was for the male only? No - male and female are not distinguished. Is the well image specifically female, as if the death was only for the male, or the male was not to be noted at a well? No - I could argue from a missing final 'he' on na`ar in Genesis (הַנַּעֲרָ) though it is vocalized to be a lass rather than a lad, but the female in the male is an adequate statement. None of us is without male and female, even if God were to say - see what I am showing you and do this - and come with me, and stay with me, for the night is far spent and the day is at hand, and I am with you in every aspect of your being, even this one.

Let the saints be joyful on their beds.

Kristen said...

I would advise Mr. George to read the Song of Solomon more carefully and with his eyes open to nuance in language.


J. L. Watts said...

George is a sick puppy, that's for sure. Proof again that the MDEC is a trouble thing.

Moreover, George as ties to antisemitism, but that is another post.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Yes, I read all the stuff about anti -Semitism, the group in Poland and the virulent right. From what I could see the connection was once removed, so I didn't pursue it. Maybe you are interested.

Lynne said...

Is there a polite way to respond to this?
To take the most printable thing I can think of saying, does this mean that, since I'm definitely over fifty, that this guy only believes that I can only have God-approved sex with my husband if we're having some sort of fertility fantasy?

why oh why oh why do these guys think they have an obligation to invent crazy moral hoops to jump through? (or limbo under) The most appalling thing about this ridiculous misogyny is what it reveals about their view of God. Monstrous and unbiblical.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

I am not sure that he is misogynist. This is really an anti-homosexual book.

Donald Johnson said...

AFAIK, George is regugitating the RCC line on sex. So these carefully crafted words in the MD are seen to mean different things to different people becuase they have different worldviews. This happens in political treaties.

J. L. Watts said...

I dunno, I think that George is a bit misogynistic, as his view of sex is one seemingly of pleasure only to the male, or in that the female's soul purpose is childbearing, hence the fertile fantasy. Of course, I may be biased.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

I don't think I can go into the ramifications of the discussion about women and pleasure. It would have to be a little too graphic.

However, in rereading this book I have found this,

"Also many couples today regularly perform sexual acts together, but view their relationships as having nothing inherently connected to procreation (as on the second view). Both these types of relationships have at times been called "marriage."But these societies or arrangementments are fundamentally distinct from the intrinsic good of marriage.

In the first two types of relationship, sexual acts are extrinsic to the personal communion of the couple. Only in the third type, only in marriage as a one-flesh union of spouses, is the sexual intercourse part of, or constitutive of, the personal bodily communion itself."

He details that it is in the potential to be mother and father that man and woman become one flesh. It is their "procreative power," which would include "conception, gestation, and bearing and raising the child."

"Thus in their sexuality, in the procreative potential which they share with each other, there is a dynamism toward fatherhood and motherhood, and so, a dynamism which extends the present unity of the spouses indefinitely into the future. This reality is the basis for the profound significance that most people rightly sense is attached to sexual intercourse."

The odd thing is that on one level he is right. It is an overwhelming responsibility to bear a child with someone else. It is a binding commitment.

On the other hand, he is completely wrong. I can't think of any society where all widows over 50 have been barred from remarriage and sexual intercourse.

Michael said...

AS Don said, George is rehashing the official Roman Catholic line on sex and marriage. The four-fold typology of masturbation, sodomy, fornication and adultery echoes something in Aquinas (I don't have the details now) that outlines typology of natural and unnatural sexual sins, the former including fornication and adultery and the latter including masturbation, sodomy (anal sex), other sex not using the proper organ and bestiality.

George's stuff on procreative conjugality is pretty heavy on the fantasy but it is the official Roman Catholic line.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


You are absolutely right. The thing is that I would guess that most people completely discount what a bunch of priests have to say about sex. But George is attempting to give the Catholic view academic legitimacy.

G said...

Oh why does someone try to make spirituality so miserable? George might be focusing on his negative opinion concerning homosexual acts, but this statement against extra-coital orgasms certainly is not thoughtful towards women. As far as the latest surveys go, about 75% of women do not experience orgasm through intercourse alone. Since the female orgasm is not essential to reproduction, it is still a big question as to why it exists. To me it sounds reasonable that it exists primarily for pleasure. Limiting the pleasure of orgasm to intercourse alone is as silly as limiting flavor for food, lest one become gluttonous because of the pleasure of its taste.

believer333 said...

George is also quite short sighted on the meaning of one flesh. It has been my opinion that all references to becoming one flesh are primarily about emotional attachment and unity of life, not about having sex. But as Hebrew thinking often plays on words, when one has excellent emotional attachment and unity of life, then one has a better chance of having good sex.

Anonymous said...

I'm not surprised to hear/read this from a Catholic professor. His Church's proscription against artificial birth control is a "camel's nose in the tent." Rome won't be happy until all non-procreative sexual activity or pleasure is halted. Catholic theologians will parse to death the difference between allowable "good" pleasure and unallowable/unacceptable "bad" pleasure. Pleasure for pleasure's sake is anathema. All such enjoyment must be dominated by "reason" so that every joy is consciously done for pleasing God and God alone; otherwise, it's concupiscence of the wrong sort.