Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Rabbi David Novak on homosexual conduct, reason, and disgust
In a post entitled "Who is David Novak . . . and why does it matter?" Michael P. has called our attention to a blurb provided by Rabbi David Novak for a new book by Martha Nussbaum in which she depicts moral opposition to homosexual conduct as rooted in what the Publisher's Weekly review of the book describes as "a politics of disgust that centers on irrational fears of contamination, penetrability, and loss of social solidarity." Michael rightly described Rabbi Novak as an acclaimed scholar and noted that he dedicated his most recent book to me. I certainly agree with Michael's suggestion that he is a thinker whose ideas, arguments, and opinions matter and deserve to be taken seriously. After reading Michael's post, I wondered what credit, if any, Rabbi Novak gives to the idea that belief in the immorality of homosexual acts derives from disgust rooted in irrational fears of contamination, penetrability, etc. He has kindly replied:
From David Novak:
I am opposed to homosexual conduct on moral grounds and on religious grounds.
Morally speaking, I am convinced that human sexuality’s function in the world is to be the means for the establishment and furtherance of human community. Community is an inextricable need of human nature. To either ignore it or distort it is disruptive of authentic or natural human life in the world. To act against human nature is immoral. The most primary instance of human community is the family, which begins in the sexual union of a woman and a man in marriage, is kept together by the exercise of this female-male marital union, and is perpetuated by the co-creation of children from this union. Since homosexual conduct is contrary to authentic human sexuality in the world, it is immoral. Morality enhances human life, while immorality diminishes human life. Minimally, I think homosexual conduct should be discouraged persuasively; maximally, I think an effort should be made to treat a person struggling with homosexual desire to redirect it, that is, if the person truly wants to do that.
As for same-sex marriage, I think the very term is an oxymoron. As such, same-sex should not receive the legal approval of the state by including it within civil marriage. The state should not recognize what is basically untrue, just as the state should not recognize my impersonation of someone else since I am undoubtedly not that person.
My religious opposition to homosexual conduct is because my own religion, Judaism, teaches that God commands all human beings not to engage in homosexual conduct. Jewish theology also teaches that God’s reason for willing this prohibition is because it is contrary to authentic human community for which God created humans. Though I believe this religious approach provides the best metaphysical grounding for the moral prohibition of homosexual conduct, one can argue for the reason of the prohibition without requiring one’s interlocutors to accept one’s metaphysics – theology being the way religious people deal with metaphysical issues like the origin and ultimate purpose of human nature. In that way, though, my theology best undergirds my morality ontologically; my morality is not deduced from my theology logically.
My opposition to homosexual conduct is not rooted in irrational fear or disgust. I am neither afraid of nor disgusted with homosexual persons per se. My opposition to homosexual conduct is rational inasmuch as I have very good reasons for it. Because I believe in the sanctity of every human person created in the image of God, and because of that I have been commanded to love him or her, disgust for any other human person would violate what I have been commanded to do in the world in my interactions with my fellow humans. That does not mean I should or can approve of whatever any other human being does.