Socrates and Sam
A discussion on homosexual activity
Sam: Socrates is homosexuality immoral?
Socrates: Sam, what do you believe about homosexuality?
Sam: Homosexuality is romantic or sexual attraction between members of the same sex. As a sexual orientation, homosexuality refers to an enduring emotional desire to experience sexual activity or romantic attractions primarily or exclusively to people of the same sex. Homosexuality is one of the four main categories of sexual orientation, along with bisexuality, asexuality, and heterosexuality. Scientific and medical understanding is that sexual orientation is not a choice, but rather a complex interplay of biological and environmental factors. Homosexuality is an example of normal variation in human sexuality and not an immoral activity.
Socrates: I understand you saying that homosexuality is when a person desires most of the time to be romantically or sexually involved with people of the same sex. That this desire is something that results from complex influences of the person’s biological nature and environmental nurture. People do not choose to have such desires but simply have them as a result of random factors that they cannot control in their lives. Because they did not choose these desires and since having sex is not harmful, then engaging in homosexual activity is not immoral. Is that your point of view?
Sam: Yes, that is a good summary of what I believe.
Socrates: Is a person more than their desires?
Sam: Yes, I would think that desires is something a person possesses and so they are not the person themselves but are inner “hungers and thirsts” for things or experiences.
Socrates: Can desires change over time in some cases?
Sam: Yes desires can change over time. This would again point out that a person’s desires are not the same as a person.
Socrates: Are any of our desires not influenced by our biological nature and environmental nurture?
Sam: I cannot think of any. It would seem that all human desires are influenced by our DNA, physical health, body chemistry, family, and culture. Every desire we have would seem to be influenced by many of these factors to one extent or another.
Socrates: Can we encourage a desire we have or discourage it? For example; a person desires to get drunk on alcohol, can we change or modify this desire? Some people have a strong desire to become intoxicated. Some even have a genetic disposition towards drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. We know that this desire sometimes in some people is related to their DNA. There is even evidence now that the use of excessive alcohol changes some aspects of their DNA which means that actions they experienced changed them biologically. Can people modify this desire for alcohol?
Sam: It would appear many people do. Once admitting that their desire for excessive amounts of alcohol is harmful many people modify their behavior and stop consuming excessive amounts of alcohol. Surveys indicate about 33% of those that have this behavior are successful in overcoming the excessive use of alcohol.
Socrates: So I understand what you are saying is that people are influenced by their biological nature and the nurture they have received in their environment in having an excessive desire for getting drunk through the use of alcohol but can by the use of a variety of cognitive, medical, psychological, philosophical, and religious methods learn to have the ability to overcome and/or lessen these desires and have their behavior radically altered. This depends on them looking at their behavior as harmful, but once they do this, then there is no reason why these deep desires to abuse alcohol cannot be overcome in many cases. At the very least a person can logically and consistently choose to take steps to try to limit the impact of these desires on their behavior and lifestyle.
Sam: Yes, I believe that is true.
Socrates: Why do you believe homosexual behavior is not immoral?
Sam: Because people are not free to choose the desire to engage in homosexual behavior. If a person does not have a choice then this cannot be a moral activity. People should not be considered to be “sinners” or immoral because of something outside their control.
Socrates: Do some people have very strong sexual desires due to their chemical makeup?
Sam: Yes, some people are biologically determined to have more intense desire for sex and others have less.
Socrates: Do you believe that having a high level of sexual desire is outside the control of the person with this particular chemistry?
Sam: Yes, it is outside of their control.
Socrates: Then if such a person was to engage in impersonal and multiple acts of sexuality as an expression of these strong sexual desires or became a prostitute would these acts not be able to be judged as immoral because they had been chemically determined to have such strong sexual desires.
Sam: No, I think that a person with high levels of sexual desire is still required to exercise self-control and express those desires in a healthy manner that is good for their lives and for the lives of others. Just because the desires are there this does not justify raping people, irresponsible sexuality, unsafe sex, or committing incest.
Socrates: So just having deep sexual desires does not justify the expression of those desires in sexual actions? If a person failed to control their sexual desires in a way that was healthy and civil, desires coming from nature and nurture, then this is a moral failure?
Sam: Yes, part of self-control is the disciplining of our desires so as to not cause harm to ourselves or others. What makes morality difficult is that we have deep desires that are hard to control that are not true or healthy expressions of love. A desire does not justify an action or makes an action moral.
Socrates: Now there is less evidence of the connection of homosexuality being part of a person’s DNA than there is that some alcoholism is connected to such a basic biological reality, but why would the acting out on homosexual behavior be any different than acting out on the desire to get drunk? It also appears that when people see homosexual behavior as destructive they can recover from this behavior about at the same levels as we see in alcoholism.
Sam: But abuse of alcohol is clearly destructive to the individual and society. There is no such evidence for homosexual activity.
Socrates: So the real question about the morality of homosexuality is not because the desire to have sex with people of the same sex could not simply be like many desires that are influenced by our nature and nurture, which we must control or resist for moral reason. The truth is we have as much choice about engaging in homosexual activity as any other sexual activity. The reason we justify homosexual activity is because we have already decided that homosexual activity is not immoral. The argument is therefore circular and not valid.
Sam: But what would make homosexual activity immoral?
Socrates: The societies that have viewed homosexual activities, as immoral most commonly are those based on a faith in the God of Abraham. This means that Orthodox Judaism, Orthodox Christianity, and Orthodox Islam define homosexual activity as against the will of God and therefore an immoral activity. Outside of this revelation most other societies and religions have allowed some type of homosexual activity along with many other sexual activities which the Abrahamic faiths would condemn as not a moral expression of sexuality. Religious faith and philosophy is what controls a person’s position on morals and ethics. For a person who is convinced of the truth of Christianity it would be inconsistent to not view homosexual activities as immoral.
Sam: So one’s perspective on homosexuality is really dependent on if one believes in the truthfulness of one of the Abrahamic faiths or some other faith that would see this as immoral?
Socrates: Yes, if Christianity is not true then the morals it teaches has no authority, but if Christianity is true then its moral standards are then valid and become part of God’s revelation concerning what activities are moral and which are immoral.
Now Christianity would also teach that those who perform homosexual actions are made in God’s image, should be treated with respect and love, and be provided the full protection of the law against abuse. Christianity teaches that all people are wonderful, wounded, weak, and wicked. Every human being is a moral failure from the Christian’s perspective. There should be no tolerance of abuse against any human being who has been made in God’s image. Homosexual sexual activity like other immoral actions can be forgiven because of the death of Christ and resurrection (John 3:16). Consistently, Christians love those who are involved in homosexual activity even as they are to love all human beings who are also seen as wounded, weak, and wicked.
Christianity teaches that human sexual activity is a very sacred and holy activity. It sees many sexual activities as immoral. For people to lust after people that they are not married to is immoral, masturbation motivated by images of sex in ones’ mind is seen as immoral, sex among single people is immoral, and adultery is immoral. The fact is only heterosexual sexual activity motivated by sensitive love in a heterosexual marriage is seen as a moral, good, and loving expression of sexual desires. Christian morality would see most of the sexual activity of human kind as sinful, immoral, and against the intention of God for sex among human beings. So it is not surprising that Christian faith also sees homosexual activity as falling short of God’s desire for our expression of sexuality.
Sam: So we cannot simply say that it is impossible for homosexual activity to be immoral because it is a desire that is created in humans by biology and environment since this is true of many desires which we ask people to modify or control. The evaluation of homosexual activity as moral or immoral has to be determined within a broader context of religious and philosophical questions.
Socrates: Some philosophers such as my student Plato in The Laws made arguments from reason for homosexuality to be immoral. The question is if “Natural Theology” or “Rational morality” without special revelation from God can make a case which would demonstrate homosexuality as immoral? That is a much debated issue but would have to be considered as well.
What is true for certain is, if Christianity is true then homosexual activity is a sin.
It is rationally possible for homosexuality to be immoral because the fact that it is influenced by our biological nature and the impact of environment does not automatically take it out of the realm of moral activity. The idea that since homosexual activity is a “natural desire” is no more a justification for it than if war seemed like “natural and normal” desires for humans would this justify the morality of war.
If one rejects the revelation and teachings of the faith that comes from the God of Abraham then it is doubtful you will conclude that homosexual activity is “sinful” or immoral. While there have been some arguments against homosexual activities based on rational philosophical arguments or natural theology this becomes an area of great debate. Cultures not rooted in an Abrahamic faith have rarely been able to promote or maintain a moral taboo against homosexual behaviors.
For Additional Reading
Homosexuality: The Use of Scientific Research in the Church’s Moral Debate; Stanton L. Jones , Mark A. Yarhouse