Caution: This post contains graphic discussions of human anatomy and sex acts.
So, apparently there’s a popular reality show on A&E called Duck Dynasty that follows the lives of a group of down-to-earth, Southern, duck-hunting entrepreneurs known for their Christian values and long beards. I’ve never really given the show much thought, except for wondering why my colleague Jimmy Akin, who sports an equally awesome beard, has never made a guest appearance.
But now one of the main actors, Phil Robertson, has been suspended from the show for comments he made about homosexuality and race. I don’t have the space to address both comments, so let’s focus on the ones getting the most attention.
Vile and disgusting?
When I saw the headlines about what Robertson said, I braced myself for the worst. Apparently he had made a “homophobic rant,” composed of “vile” and “disgusting” comments about homosexuality. So what did he say? Here are the comments (from a recent interview Robertson did for GQ magazine), starting with the interviewer setting the scene:
Out here in these woods, without any cameras around, Phil is free to say what he wants. Maybe a little too free. He’s got lots of thoughts on modern immorality, and there’s no stopping them from rushing out. Like this one:
“It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”
If this comment makes you squeamish, then perhaps it is anal sex that you think is vile and disgusting and not Robertson. To me this seems like a classic case of “shooting the messenger.” Robertson is just offering an opinion that is not too far from the natural law theory of morality.
Now, I can see where some people will twist what he is saying, so let me try to head them off at the pass. Women are not equivalent to vaginas, and men don’t value women solely because they form a sexual complement to men.
However, Robertson makes a sensible point. Along with providing intense pleasure for the man and woman, sexual intercourse through the vagina does have more to offer than anal sex: It can create a new human being who is made in the image and likeness of God. The creation of the child serves as a sign of the couple’s faithful, total, and lifelong gift of self to one another.
I also think it’s perfectly valid to ask if the anus, which primarily serves the body in waste disposal, is “for” sex. And even pro-LGBT cancer awareness websites acknowledge that men who have anal sex with men are between twenty and forty times more likely to develop anal cancer.
It boggles my mind that in our culture even raising the question of whether or not anal sex is a good idea is labeled “bigotry” and the topic is deemed unworthy of discussion.
Comparing and labeling sin
Here’s another quote getting a lot of attention:
“Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong,” he says. “Sin becomes fine.”
[The interviewer asks] What, in your mind, is sinful?
“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”
I do agree with Robertson that, as Isaiah 5:20 puts it, our culture frequently describes evil things as being good and good things as being evil. However, I don’t think it’s wise to directly compare bestiality and homosexual behavior. While there are many people (both opposite-sex and same-sex couples) who engage in sex acts solely to fulfill a base desire for sex, most same-sex couples probably use sex as a way to express feelings of love and affection for one another.
A better comparison is people who have multiple partners (or as Robertson puts it, are “sleeping around”), or even polygamy. Like same-sex unions, these relationships are consensual and involve sharing mutual feelings of love and affection. If sex is just about expressions of love and the generation of pleasure, then there is no principled reason to say it’s wrong to have more than one spouse. In fact, a U.S. district court agrees, and has recently struck down part of Utah’s anti-polygamy laws at the instigation of the cast of the polyamory-themed TV show Sister Wives.
Or consider consensual adult incest. As long as the relationship is consensual and steps are taken to ensure a child with a genetic defect is not created, then the critic who believes sex is just about emotion and pleasure has no principled reason to say this kind of act is wrong. It was truly ironic that the self-identified gay blogger Perez Hilton (a.k.a. Mario Armando Lavandeira, Jr.) made the following comments about a story involving a man who wants to marry his own grandmother: “Ew ew ew ew ew ew ew ew ew ew! . . . We feel so dirty and uncomfortable. This is awful . . . We feel sick. And want to cry.”
If I said that about Hilton’s sexual behaviors, I’d be labeled a bigot. However, he and his readers think those same intuitions can be validly used to condemn adult incest. Anyone else see a double standard?
What’s wrong with bestiality?
The issue of bestiality does raise an interesting point. Why is it wrong? Well, it’s unhealthy, you might say. But with the prevalence of STDs in the U.S., sex among unmarried people isn’t exactly healthy, either. Plus, a man could just use a condom to protect himself from any animal-related diseases.
Okay, how about the fact that the animal doesn’t consent to the act, and sex requires consent? The problem with this response is that most people agree it’s okay to eat animals without their consent. That would seem to harm an animal far more than “non-consensual” sex would. If it were okay to eat an animal for dinner, why wouldn’t it be okay for a “zoophile” to take an animal out to dinner and a movie?
And don’t try quoting Leviticus 18:23 to show bestiality is wrong. True, it says, “you shall not lie with any beast and defile yourself with it, neither shall any woman give herself to a beast to lie with it: it is perversion.” All that proves is that you are an ignorant bigot. You’re against bestiality because the Bible says it’s wrong? The Bible also says its wrong to eat shrimp!
If you simply say bestiality is just “gross” or that humans weren’t meant to have sex with animals, or that sex has something to do with procreation, this also shows you’re a bigot because those same kinds of arguments are used by bigots to say homosexual sex is wrong.
As you can see, if we divorce sex from it’s context of the life-giving act of love between one man and one woman it can lead to some frightful consequences.
How should we respond?
I don’t think it’s wise for people who agree with Robertson to say this is a “free speech issue” (as Sarah Palin has done). The government isn’t trying to silence Robertson, and A&E is a private company that has the right to ditch an employee who is causing controversy.
We should instead focus our conversations around the question “What is sex for?” This moves the conversation away from the issue of being bigoted against self-identified gay people and toward the more universal issue of which sex acts are moral and which are not. I recommend J. Budziszewski’s On the Meaning of Sex to learn more about that approach.
We should also condemn hatred toward homosexuals, such as the Russian actor Ivan Okhlobystin’s recent comments about wanting to burn gays and lesbians in ovens. As Catholics, we should promote an atmosphere that affirms all human beings as being valuable in the eyes of God while at the same time promote God’s plan for human beings, including his plan for our sexuality that can be seen in our human natures.
As the Catechism puts it:
The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition (CCC 2358).