Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells

I had a letter published in the Irish Times today, on the subject of the Civil Partnership Bill which the Dáil has just passed. It was more in response to previous letters than to the Bill itself.

I hope it's not too sectional or partisan (not to mention egotistical) to reprint it here.

I feel I should add that, as far as I'm concerned, the GK Chesterton Society of Ireland welcomes members of any religion or lack of religion, any political persuasion, and any lifestyle.

This is the letter:

Madam, – Your correspondence on the Civil Partnership Bill has revealed a depressing level of bigotry amongst your readership. I refer, of course, to the bigotry towards the hundreds of millions of people who existed on this planet before us, the vast majority of whom would surely have regarded this legislation as insane.

It is a prime example of what CS Lewis called “chronological snobbery”. What a prodigious generation we are, to have suddenly realised the wrong-headedness of so many centuries of human civilisation! It is also further proof that liberalism is not some kind of neutral space in which different views of life can flourish, but is in fact an imposition of a particular value system on all of society, one which becomes more and more totalitarian as time passes. The battering-ram of anti-discrimination and equality legislation, powered by the EU, will be the weapon of choice to pulverise tradition. We must not only listen to Nero play; we must applaud him.

This measure is hailed as part of the progressive agenda, but those who hail it as such should realise they are signing a blank cheque. What seemed ridiculous to their grandparents seems like natural justice to them. But where does the re-imagining of norms end? Will compulsory vegetarianism be on the agenda in 50 years? Will children be seized from parents with reactionary opinions? Now the pressure is on for men, if they so wish, to be legally considered women, will we eventually see the creation of new sexes unknown to biology, each demanding formal recognition? It doesn’t seem so far-fetched to me. – Yours, etc,



Sillogue Gardens,


Dublin 11.


  1. Marvellous prose - I do like that Nero line.

  2. Ah, ah, ah ... very Chestertonian. Great letter.

  3. "What a prodigious generation we are, to have suddenly realised the wrong-headedness of so many centuries of human civilisation!"

    Well, generations of our ancestors up until quite recently (in the historical sense) believed slavery was just fine. Yes, our ancestors can be and sometimes have been quite wrong. And each of the scenarios you mention (no doubt with the intent of terrorizing us) will probably be debated at some point in the future with the possibility any of them might replace old norms with new ones. I'm not advocating any of these things, but they must be argued for or against on their own merits - not on the basis of how our ancestors felt about things. Few people will be impressed by this, as it is really no argument for anything but the blind following of tradition, whether the tradition is benevolent or otherwise.

  4. That's all very well. Explain to me what measure you have for deciding whether "tradition is benevolent or otherwise", and you have an argument. Exactly how far do you push the open-mindedness? On what grounds do you claim slavery was wrong, anyway?

    The truth is that same-sex marriage is rarely "argued on its merits"-- the supposition is always made that any enlightened, compassionate person will support it and those who do not are somehow lacking in humanity. That is, it's set up as a moral norm, appealed to as a moral norm. My argument simply shows how historically contingent that is. There is no appeal to reason in most of the arguments in its favour, simply an appeal to emotion-- mostly the emotion of following the crowd.

    The truth is that there is one institution on this world today that believes in a transhistorical, objective morality, and that is the Catholic Church. Fred and Jeremy can declare themselves married, and all their friends will consider them married, and all their friends' friends will consider them married. There is only one purpose to anti-discrimination legislation; to force Catholics to recognise them as married. Let's be in no doubt about that.

  5. Moral norms are always in a state of evolution. Yes, of course they are historically contingent! But if one wishes to make moral and ethical decisions on a basis less dependent on current fads, there are other options than believing in an ancient book and a God whose presence in the world is not apparent to many people.

    While arguments in favor of same-sex marriage may be sometimes both historically contingent and emotional, you have not made any argument in opposition except the one that religious folk always make: "My version of God, in the Holy Book that I believe in, says . . . " In what way does that "argument" address the issue at all?

    I cannot speak for your part of the world, but in the U.S. I doubt any gay person cares about forcing anyone to recognise them as being married (as if such a thing were even possible). Their concern is with what the government sanctions and what it does not, and how that affects such things as Social Security payments to a surviving spouse.

    I won't dignify your demand for an anti-slavery argument, because it really doesn't deserve one. I suggest you read up on the Abolitionist movement.

  6. My point in demanding an anti-slavery argument was not to suggest it might be right, but to simply show that the point at which your "open-mindedness" stops is utterly arbitrary. Unlike the Catholic Church, you can make no appeal to natural law or dogma-- nothing but the fashion of the age, your personal pecadilloes, whatever. Well, in fifty years the trendy journalists might be baying for slavery again.

    As for a "God that is not apparent to everyone", well, the sad news is that moral norms stand or fall on the existence of such a God. I can tell you something else that's not apparent to everyone; moral facts. They're not apparent to sociopaths, for instance.

    The whole point of marriage, or the "civil partnership" that apes marriage and is aiming at marriage through the back door, is that it derives its legitimacy from popular and historical acceptance. It has been given the imprimatur of mankind. Attempting to give that by fiat, on behalf of those of us who remain utterly unconvinced and hostile, is simply self-contradictory.

    Not that "gay marriage" would be legitimate even if every single person alive voted for it. If you believe there is some metaphysical reality behind marriage, and not simply a convention, than what is more likely; that it is present where sexual attraction between two people (of whatever sex) is so strong that it becomes a lifelong commitment, or that it is the ultimate fulfilment of the deep complementarity of the sexes, open to the creation of new life?

    Do you really think, the concepts of motherhood and fatherhood being so engrained in our culture and psychology, that it is anything other than abusive to deny the experience of a mother and a father to a child-- for no other reason than that they be used as a political weapon in a culture war?

    And isn't it plain, from pride parades and queer studies and all the other aspects of gay culture, that the homosexual lifestyle is not analagous to marriage and traditional romance, but is in fact deeply subversive-- rooted more in physical attraction than emotional connection? Why has there never been a classic gay love story? (And if you point to Brokeback Mountain- I think you are proving my point.)

    I should also add that my letter was a reply to previous letters, and not an exhaustive discussion of the subject.