Tuesday, October 30, 2012

On Meeting Zach Wahls Discussing His Two Moms and Homosexual Marriage

Zach’s argument for homosexuality (in this case, lesbianism) is more than a mere huff and puff position from a typical activist.  Zach has two moms, and he loves his mothers with a genuine depth as seen in his passionate plea before an Iowa court begging for the legalization of same-sex marriage.  I had the privilege of hearing Zach Wahls speak at Lenoir-Rhyne University in September of 2012.  Wahls brings it all to his audience: wit and humor, candor and rhetorical style replete with an impassioned plea to treat homosexuals with charity.  Not only charity will do, according to Wahls.   Rather, he desires, like many Americans and others around the world, to promote homosexual marriage.  But the rhetorical style, with its jokes and passion for his views, contained some serious argumentative flaws.  And before I go into what was flawed in Zach’s argument, I want to say that having met with him after his speech; I am impressed with his character: Zach is a fine, young man who is interested in listening to other people and tackling hard questions.

Without recourse of delving into all of Mr. Wahl’s arguments for homosexual marriage from the evening, I’d like to retell part of a conversation I had with him during the Q&A and follow-up afterward.  Wahls says during his speech that he believes homosexual behavior is “natural,” and then compares that which is “natural” to a plastic microphone.  He advises the audience at Lenior-Rhyne that man-made materials are unnatural, but that human sexual choices and behavior are natural.  Confusing is his use of a triple negative, admitting that he does not think it [homosexual behavior] is not unnatural; he then says his plastic microphone is unnatural.   Do I ask for clarification and play the pesky journalist?    

Waiting…waiting…waiting…for questions from the audience.  Rather, Wahls is faced with softballs such as “Is there a mom whom you love best?” and similar inquiries.   Do I ask him about his self-confessed Universal Unitarianism, and how one derives an objective ethic in this worldview, or do I ask about his triple negative, with subsequent follow-ups, or about his quips and ad hominem (personal) attacks against two hypocritical signers of the Defense of Marriage Act (Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich)?  Do I point out that such attacks do not actually prove anything concerning the marriage debate?  What about his statement that he not only doesn’t care to know who his father his but that he refers to him as “donor 113”?  (I was troubled, but not surprised, at laughs and snickers from the audience concerning this anti-father quip).
So, I clear my throat and with shaky tenor, summarize his argument about “natural” sexual behavior and proceed to ask questions from the back of the audience without the help of a microphone; the audible tones emanating from my diaphragm betray the nervous electricity.  Dry, cracked and therefore too deep, my voice has an unnatural boom to it.  

And this is just what I want to know: his definition of what is natural and what is unnatural.  I am genuinely confused because of his use of the triple negative regarding “natural”: I’m not saying some people say it isn’t unnatural—or something.  Come again?  The audience begins to stir.  During the course of our interchange, murmurs emanate like a wisp of cloud.   Zach clarifies, affirming that homosexuality is natural.  This I not only suspect, but know beforehand.  However, my notes deny such clarity.  From the stage under the bright, hot lights, Zach answers my nervous resonance: “You compared homosexuality as natural with a microphone, which is unnatural.  May I ask you a question?”


“What is your definition of what is natural?” 

Folks start to turn their heads and look at me. 

His riposte is that if a person trains another person how to drive a car, then that is unnatural.  Another example is his plastic water bottle: this is also unnatural.  But it’s natural, he upholds, to be a homosexual. 

My follow-up question:

“Ok.  I’m not saying homosexuality is wrong—““I’m not saying you are.”
“Ok great.  But, I’m a bit confused.  Can you help me?  So…are you saying that that which is organic is natural, and that which is inorganic is unnatural?”

Groans from the audience.  “Of course it’s natural!” I hear someone whisper in groaning frustration. 

At this point, the professor in charge of the evening’s address interrupts our conversation, and ends the entire dialogue on the spot.  He tells the audience that students have places to go and things to do, and that if I want, I can speak with Mr. Wahls afterward privately. 

A former student of mine tells me immediately: “I think it’s really awful that you were cut off.  It’s not fair.  You were asking good questions!” 

Now, on Zach’s viewpoint, if that which is unnatural is that which is inorganic i.e. a plastic bottle, and that which is natural is that which is organic, then some terrible man steps through a darkened door: taking the “Argument from organics,” then any action or thing which is organic is “natural” or “good.”  For, Wahls is using “natural” and “unnatural” in ethical terms.  Therefore the logical outworking of such a viewpoint is that any sexual act is “natural.”  Recall that Wahls’ use of “natural” is an ethical term, meaning “good.”  By logical extension then, this viewpoint must include bestiality, pederasty, sodomy, or what-have-you.  Further, even cannibalism is “natural” because it is organic.  Now, I believe with my whole heart that Wahls would never support pedophilia, nor would he support cannibalism or bestiality.  Nevertheless, there are no grounds, on this view of ethics, to decry certain behaviors as immoral.  That is because if something is natural it is good.  And if something is organic it is natural.  I hope you can see that without a transcendent, moral law from a personal, Creator-God, there is no justification or grounding for ethics of any kind that does not resort to some kind of relativism.    

But there is a second problem with Mr. Wahls’ “natural/unnatural” argument, and that is a category mistake.  Wahls compares learning how to drive, plastic microphones and his own, plastic water bottle with sexual behavior, using the “natural/unnatural” divide.  The category mistake is that he moves from physical objects (microphones and bottles) to ethical norms (homosexual behavior, or rather, the moral judgment concerning homosexual behavior).   But how can we take a thing like a plastic bottle and compare it to sexual activity and the morality?  And how can we take a category such as natural/unnatural and apply it in different ways to different things in the same argument?  

Consider the argument broken down in logic-book style:
1) Natural is good.
2) Unnatural is manmade stuff.
3) Homosexuality is natural.   
4)  Therefore homosexuality is good.
5) Therefore homosexuality is not unnatural.

You can see that premise number one is inconsistent with premise number two.  In order for 2) to be consistent with 1), 2) would have to change “manmade stuff” to “bad” or “evil.”  Then 2) would contain the opposites necessary in order to make a complete argument.  The opposite of “natural” is “unnatural,” (think: non-natural) but is the opposite of “good” “manmade stuff”?  And of course, presupposed in 1) is the idea that “natural” is “organic.”  And 2) is a tautology.  That is, is “says the same thing” about itself.  Given 1), of course the opposite of natural/organic will be unnatural/inorganic.  The problem is comparing “good” with “that which is manmade.”  And because 2) contains a tautology, it is guilty of equivocation, where a term is used with ambiguity. 

Of course, if we want to use natural/unnatural to describe moral categories, then we should stick with comparing behavior with behavior.  For example, we might say that bestiality is unnatural and that heterosexual unions are natural.  When we do this, we are doing two things.  One, we are saying that categories of the created order apply in terms of sexual activity.  Two, we are saying that “natural” applies to that which is a categorical “fit” and that “unnatural” is a non-categorical “fit.”  Humans are not designed to copulate with animals, and taking that one step further, we may also add that “sameness” in sexuality forgets (or ignores) the necessity for the right kind of differences within the same category: humans who are different in gender are made for each other, whereas humans of the same gender are not. 

So, while Mr. Wahls affirms the “natural/unnatural” argument, he really digs himself into an egregious illogical hole: if that which is natural is that which is “not manmade” i.e. organic, and if that which is unnatural is that which is “manmade” e.g. plastic bottles, then anything on the organic plane is up for grabs in terms of that which is “natural.”  But that is not what Wahls is doing in the argument: he’s trying to argue that “natural” and “unnatural” are moral terms, carrying moral weight.  But why use a moral term in speaking about a plastic bottle because of its origins (man’s use of the material world to make things that are inorganic)? 

Mustering up the courage at the behest of several Ratio Christi students, I saunter up on stage and speak with Zach some more, after waiting for the crowd to dwindle, because I want an in-depth dialogue.  I tell Zach how much I value his courage for speaking about his persecution and the bullying he endured as a junior high and high school student.  I share with him some of the more tragic moments of my own life during that age.  We connect, and he allows me to ask him some fundamental, philosophical questions about human nature: desire and choice and how these things interact with one another.  This is a fascinating discussion.  He tells me that people should behave according to their desires.  So, I ask:

“Are you saying that if I have a desire, I should always act on that desire?” 

Reply: since I am married, I should only act upon my sexual desires with my wife. 

Nevertheless, he sustains his view that people need to follow their desires.  So, I ask him if he thinks that desire and choice are one and the same.  He says yes.  For clarification, I ask him if he believes desire and choice share the same ontology (that is, having one and the same essence, being melded together into a ‘oneness.’).  He affirms this also. 

But if that is true, then how can Zach instruct me to keep my obligations to my wife?  After all, if desire and choice are one and the same, and if humans should act according to their desires and inner affections, how does one argue against adultery, jealousy, theft, slander, hatred, laziness, foul language,  female circumcision, and the like?  We cannot, at this point, resort to the validity of a social contract (in this case, marriage), for the innate essence of desire/choice within humans must and should be satisfied.  Neither can we resort to “personal private rights” or “the right to happiness” because one person’s happiness is another’s loss. Or worse, it’s another’s torture and death.  Wahls’ ethic is arbitrary: on the one hand, I should “do according to my feelings,” and on the other hand, I shouldn’t.  Is a marriage vow a “higher law” than that which would normally dictate my behavior i.e. my desires (remembering that desire and choice have the same ontology)? 

“So, you’re saying that choice and desire are one and the same in essence?” my hands are held together out from my eyes forming a spidery, cradled globe, and he ponders the material arrangement of boney appendages. 

“Yes.  I think so.”

Immediately, our peaceful dialogue is excised by the professor, who pleads with me with a smile and perhaps a notable frustration.  “Please, sir!  Sir!”  Coming around the circle of the stage, “There are other students waiting for questions.  You’ve taken up enough time.  This is not the time or place for such questions.  You should better meet another time and in another place for this discussion…. Please.” 
Turning with a smile and seeing a puzzled Zach, I offer a “Thank you,” to the professor.  For I know that I must treat this man—both men—with the utmost of respect.  This is the command of Christ, and it also builds capital with others for future conversations. 

Zach was kind enough to give me his email.  I sensed that he too, wished we could have spoken longer.


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