Tuesday, October 31, 2006
William Placher has written an interesting review of Margaret Farley's Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics:
According to Farley, the basic question of sexual ethics is, "With what kinds of motives, under what kinds of circumstances, in what forms of relationships, do we render our sexual selves to one another in ways that are good, true, right and just?" Just turns out to be the key word. Being just to others means giving them their due—respecting individual differences but treating each individual as of unconditional value.
In just relationships we do no unjust harm (a difficult challenge given how vulnerable people make themselves in sexual relations); we do nothing without the consent of our partner; and we establish relationships based on mutuality and equality. We love in ways that take into consideration the commitments we are making for the future. While not all sexual activity involves producing children, it should take place in a context of responsibility for future generations and a commitment not to harm third parties or forget our wider responsibilities to social justice. These principles provide a middle ground between the traditional rules and "anything goes."
. . . . The lasting effects of "sexual taboo morality," Farley writes, "might have to do with developing shame and guilt more than wisdom and prudence about human sexuality."
The key question, of course, is whether we lose more than "shame and guilt" when we lose the taboo. Placher takes note:
Sexual passion is powerful stuff. At least on some occasions an old-fashioned taboo may be a stronger controlling force than a principle of justice. In a society where sex is used to sell nearly everything, young people (and not-so-young people) find living a sexually responsible life really hard. Margaret Farley has the guts and the clarity of mind to give us a third alternative to "narrowly constituted moral systems and rules" on the one hand and sexual chaos on the other. Whether enough people in our society have the good sense and self-discipline to put such a proposal into practice is a harder question.