On Rhetoric in the Debate on Marriage

Lately, on Facebook, the following video has been floating around:

Yes, the rhetoric of this young man is amazing.  He is well spoken, and has a good head on his shoulders it seems.

Yes, he has grown up normally.

I do not doubt his experience, or his normalcy at all.  I give credence to every single word he said.

In fact, I must admit, watching this video initially, I was challenged by it: the young man is incredibly persuasive.  What can one say in response to that?

To an extent, not much can be said.  I think one of the issues of the marriage debate is that the two sides speak two totally different languages and have two totally different worldviews.  We are talking at each-other, and not with each other.

I know some friends may be reading this and, seeing the clip online themselves, would be hard pressed to offer a reasonable response to such a clip: I too find it difficult, which is why I have had to take some time to reflect, to give serious weight to his words and arguments, and to see if I hold onto every word he says.

I will start with an agreement.  I don’t think the marriage debate should be on the impact of gay parents on their children.  While I am not for such an upbringing – for reasons which I will not bring up here – I do not think it ought to be the basis of the argument.  Ultimately, it doesn’t hold water: it is too subjective.  People like Zach (and I know others, too) have grown up to be well balanced and productive individuals in society.  They are proof against the argument (though proof can be offered on the opposite side as well).  In fact, good or bad upbringing can happen even in families with heterosexual parents.  This is not where the argument can lie.  Thus, Zach is right at first: if the argument is about upbringing, then the law must be in favour of same-sex couples.  But that is – or at least ought not – to be where the argument lies.

As beautiful as passionate rhetoric can be – his speech is a fine example of the finest rhetoric – rhetoric itself cannot be the basis of a judgment.  I recall during the Presidential Election hearing one of Obama’s speeches.  I was swept up in it.  His rhetoric was persuasive – not on the intellectual level, but on the emotional – your emotions could almost lead you to say “Yes we can” with him.  But reality is not based on emotions.  I remembered afterwards thinking about his actual arguments – what he was really saying – and realized I myself almost got swept up in the emotional stir that I experienced.  I didn’t agree with his arguments at the time – though I no longer recall what they were – and realized, unfortunately, most speech is emotion only.  Reason has fallen out the window.  People, because of the fact that emotions and feelings have become the basis of their life, fall into the emotional stir often and, thinking they are applying their reason, really throw it out the window.  I recall, again with Obama as the example, that Howard Stern did a brief little walking survey of Americans asking who they would vote for, isolating those who were voting for Obama.  Then he said “Well, I guess that means you’re pro-life” or “pro-war” or what not – positions Obama explicitly did not hold.  And these people answered that yes, they too were for that.  What Stern was demonstrating was the fact that people were not informed in their voting, but to me it demonstrated a deeper reality: people were swept up in Obama-feeling and not in Obama-fact.  Feelings and reason are not opposed, though reason is higher in the human person.  But people tend to pit one against the other.  In our North American society as of late, we have leaned towards the feelings and have imposed the concept of reason to them.  The arbiters of our moral compass are no longer our minds informing our lived life: it is our feelings that are equated with the mind.  In the search for reason, we have become unreasonable.

This brings me back to my argument about Zach’s speech.  What happened with Obama is what is happening with Zach’s speech, and is probably why it is taking the internet by storm.  But there is a statement in his speech that made me ask myself “is that really true?”  He said that love is the basis of family.  I agree with this, but my question is, what does he understand love to be?  Is it a feeling?  Well, we have “loving feelings” all the time, they come and go, and they are not the basis for love as love.  So he probably didn’t mean that – even though people tend to equate love with that.  He did equate the concept of commitment with love.  He is right about that.  Commitment and love go hand in hand.

Zach and I would probably even agree that life-long committed love is expressed through the sexual act.  But it is exactly at this point, too, that we would diverge.  Because what is at issue in the whole debate – an issue that the courts do not seem to take into account – is the concept of the human person.  What I see in the statements of those who are pro-homosexual marriage is that there is a different concept of the human person in both sides of the argument.  For those who are pro-homosexual marriage, they do not see the person as a body and soul unity.  Love can be expressed in a sexual way regardless of whether or not the parts fit.  For those who are pro-traditional sense of marriage, the opposite is true: deep down, their concept of the human person is one that sees the body as expressing the soul: they are in a great communion.  Their acts are expressive of their nature, and so to have a ‘male body’ means to be a ‘male soul’ as well.

While what I have just said is incredibly basic, lacking nuance, and needing of a far more extensive treatment, I think this is more where the issue really lies.  The concept of the human person is under attack, and has been since the enlightenment.  By trying to value the body, many post-modern thinkers have actually devalued it.  Yet – and this is where one, with time and space, could demonstrate the inherent inconsistency of the post-modern view of the human person – if we took a deep and profound look at our experience of life, we would realize that tendencies, even strong one’s, do not define us, that the body needs a soul and the soul a body. We would realize that to be truly human is to value the beauty of the body and the soul in its complete integrity.  As I read Maurice Blondel’s “L’Action”, I think his philosophy offers us a key to engaging this issue.  That is where the argument ought to be – in the realm of the human person – and that is precisely where it is not.

As an end note, I must insist completely: I am not anti-gay people in any way, shape or form, though I know those who read this who are pro-gay marriage, despite my saying that, will still think I either hate or strongly discriminate against gays.  I do not.  I am not attacking them.  The reason why people will say I am anti-gay people, though, is because they believe, in the end, that action defines who we are.  I think that action expresses our choices as to who we want to be: one in accord with our nature, or one who acts against it.  That is where the argument is, and, despite the qualification I have now just posted, I will still be called a bigot, a gay-hater, etc.  I have tried to make it known I am not, but accept the fact that I may still be called that.

in Christ




1 Comment

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One response to “On Rhetoric in the Debate on Marriage

  1. I like your article and have been enjoying the site! Thanks for putting this all together. I would say that I would not give up on the argument against homosexual marriage based on the effect that it has on kids. Yes, there are going to be great kids from homosexual marriages and kids who have a rough time in heterosexual marriages, blah, blah, blah, etc. Yet, we do know that pyscological evidence points to the fact that people tend to be healthier with a good father and mother, that in the aggregate, to have a mother and a father is the ideal, and any discussion on homosexual marriage that neglects a child’s right to have a mother AND a father is missing something. Everything backs us up–theology, philosophy, biology, sociology, psychology, etc. This is too important of an issue not to approach it on every front.

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