Interpreting contemporary sexual morality

Alastair Roberts recently wrote an article for the Gospel Coalition that tried to summarize “the new sexual morality” in a systematic way. He believes that we should understand “that the shift we’re witnessing is not the abandonment of all morality but a shift to a new moral system, one with its roots firmly within the philosophical tradition of liberalism. This new moral system is loosely coherent, and its underlying principles will work like yeast through the dough of our moral vision. Rather than advocating mere amorality, it forcefully presses moral claims against Christian sexual and relational ethics: for this moral system, Christian morality isn’t just wrong, it is immoral.”

Here are the five principles, and the article contains fuller explanations of each:

First, sexual acts don’t have intrinsic meanings or purposes….

Second, our sexuality is a subjective sense and intrinsic to our self-identity….

Third, sexual agents are autonomous, rights-bearing individuals….

Fourth, freely given consent is the watchword for sexual relations….

Fifth, beyond the prevention of harm, sexual relations should be freed from social policing and constraint, from norms and from stigmas.

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One comment

  1. Good article, Scott, thanks for sharing it.

    Roberts’ 5 core principles seem a bit hodgepodge and broad to me in places, perhaps because I have a slightly different perspective, but he eventually develops them into good reflections.

    One of those broad points involves his conflating individualism against the coercive state with individualism against voluntary social pressures, which is unfortunate because I view them as opposing ideologies. e.g. freeing people from social pressures actually requires state coercion of individuals using a complex set of positive “rights”.

    But Roberts is exactly correct that it is a new morality rather than a lack of one, and that it over-emphasizes some morals at the expense of others. Moreover, it has advanced largely through emotional and semi-rational moral shaming via education, politics, entertainment, and economic intimidation.

    Some I’ve seen include:

    (1) “Having sex is healthy.” But qualifications are rarely provided, such as conditions of love, marriage, children, or even the kind of sex.

    (2) “Getting pregnant destroys lives.” For some definition of “destroy”. It includes reasonable factors like education, career, poverty, stress, health, etc., but much like the free market, it can be hard to predict the value of such challenges.

    (3) “Given #1 and #2, it is therefore child abuse if you don’t put children on contraception.” I’ve heard this argument more than once.

    (4) “Our feelings define our true self. They are not subject to feedback or training.” This one is particularly pernicious and misleading.

    This contest between moralities extends across the board, with politics playing an increasing role, for reasons you note in your previous post. Perhaps ironically, even the best arguments by atheists focus on a hypothetically superior morality. Christianity is not simply irrelevant, they argue; it is harmful.

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