On August 16th, 2008, Candidates Barack Obama and John McCain answered the questions of Rich Warren, Pastor of Saddleback Church. During his now-famous, four and a half minute “Abortion is above my pay grade” diatribe, the President stuttered the following:
“The goal for me right now…and this is where I think we can find some common ground…is how do we reduce abortion? I am pro-choice because…I don’t think women arrive at these decisions lightly…but I am in favor of limits on late-term abortions, if there is an exception for the mother’s health.”
I was reminded of Obama’s illogical pitch for limits on Abortion while reading the discussion following Suzanne Venker’s honest and thought-provoking NRB post, Premarital Sex: Does It Have to Be All or Nothing? Venker frankly argues for a middle ground between “casual sex or hooking up,” and “wait-till I’m married virginity.”
“Prior to getting married (the first time, that is — at the age of 23), I was neither a slut nor a virgin. I have never supported the idea of casual sex, but I have also never felt that two monogamous, responsible individuals… who are deeply in love — and may or may not marry – should be expected to not have sex. It’s simply too tall an order in my opinion.”
The “post-Post” discussion raises the essential question of who or what determines the moral value of any given human action. This question is at the core of our Western Canon and it is certainly worth joining the historical minds who have asked it, without any intention of denigrating Venker’s stance on this issue. One comment objects to Venker:
“Obviously you don’t make this statement from the point of view of there being an absolute and transcendent source for morality, so how do you establish what is or is not moral? If we ignore the real source of absolute moral values, which is God, then we will be discussing this until we are blue in the face but we’ll never agree on what is or is not moral.”
Venker ends her post with this affirmation:
“Indeed, I think it’s crazy — and with birth control, unnecessary — to expect people who are in love to abstain completely…The bottom line is that there’s too much attention played to the slut/virgin dichotomy. There is another option: It’s called being morally and physically responsible. Morally responsible means you don’t have sex with your friends, acquaintances, or people with whom you’ve only had one date. It means saving sex not for marriage — but for love.”
Logically, when it comes to morality, there really are only two options, objective or subjective morality. The Judeo-Christian Tradition upon which Western Civilization was based, holds that their Creator endowed human beings with intellect and free will, by which they know and freely subject themselves to laws instilled in the human conscience – later codified in the Ten Commandments.
This Tradition predicates sexuality in function of society’s need for the stability of the family and a secure environment for the good of children. The secular view is that there is either no transcendent arbiter of what is right and wrong, or that He/She/It exists, but doesn’t care what we do. Sexuality is primarily seen as a function of the individual, not of the common good.
If there is a God and Commandments regulating human behavior, then morality is objective and does not depend upon subjective feelings, the phase of the moon, or Guinness consumption. (Perhaps God understands if Guinness is involved, but only if you’re Irish.)
If there is no God, and therefore no objective standard of right and wrong, then no action has a moral character. Not only sex, but murder, theft, racism, rape, and why not, cannibalism, are morally neutral. Absent a transcendent, extraneous authority, who has the right to tell one human being what is good and what is not?
Just like Obama saying that he thinks that abortion should be legal, but that it should be limited, arguing that people should have sex, but just not too much, makes no sense. If Abortion is not wrong, then have all the Abortions you want. If pre-marital sex isn’t objectively wrong, then why the restraint? In the absence of a fixed criterion of right and wrong, moderation is illogical.
The distinction between “slut and virgin,” or “casual and serious sex,” has no meaning. Good and evil become irrelevant, isolated whims, instead of universal principles of justice, as Aristotle defines, “rendering to each what is due to him.” In a world of moral relativism, requiring “love” for responsible pre-marital sex, while certainly well intended by Venker, makes as much sense as saying you can murder someone, as long as you really hate them.