Moral Arguments

The entire genre of political/moral debates which have recently been happening in the public square have really been disappointed to me. Not, because of the subject matter, but rather because of the personal attacks levied by both sides against the other. Instead of engaging in a fruitful discussion we end up talking passed one another. “If you are against ‘gay marriage’, then you are a bigot and hate all homosexual people.” or “If you are for ‘gay marriage’ then you are an immoral, and aught to be rightfully condemned.” Many people on both sides would like to believe that we live in a binary world. For this reason we have largely lost the ability to have coherent argument. We cannot expound on moral arguments and expound our points of view without risking a personal attack by the other. I think this may be a reason that so many of us are hesitant to even engage in the debate, and simply go along with the majority. We don’t want to be attacked or looked at as, outside the norm. The question when evaluating someone stance on any subject, but especially the recent debates, should be, is the person making a soundly reasoned argument. Or is this person simply engaging in ‘hate speech’ and liable in an attempt to win the argument by dragging it down to the level of personal attacks. If the latter, I believe the discussion should immediately stop, and that person dismissed because no further constructive discussion can then occur.

To illustrate this point more fully, consider some of the arguments for ‘gay marriage.’ Now that homosexuality is becoming more mainstream and socially acceptable there are increasing number of homosexual people who are ‘coming out.’ And as a result there are people who are seeing people in their lives whom they recognized as a good person, but now also as homos. I know many homosexual people who are good, and decent people, who genuinely care about others and wish others well. They are, in many cases, productive members of our society who are active in many worthy causes throughout our communities. ‘Coming out,’ I believe is a very good thing. To have someone who is continually hiding his or her true feelings, as any psychologist will tell you, ultimately detrimental to that person. The issue comes when one recognizes someone as a homosexual and a good person, that they think that homosexuality is also good. This is not sound reasoning. Just because a person is good and decent it does not necessarily follow that everything that person does, thinks, or wants is also good, decent, or even morally correct. Once, again, we are back to the fantasy binary world in which each person is homogeneous and wholly good or bad. We thus make our arguments on sentimental values rather than on actual moral arguments. We, all of us, have aspects of our lives which are, in some ways, not consistent with the image we want to the world to see of us. I consider myself an upstanding man with many good attributes. Yet, on some days, which might be considered my most honest days, I recognize, within myself, inconsistencies. Those inconsistencies do not, for that reason, negate my good qualities. No one can say that on the basis of that action, and that action alone, I am a bad man. For the same reason, on one can say that based on someone’s feelings, or even if they act on those feelings that that person is bad. This is not a moral argument. It is a sentimental argument, and does not further this discussion at all.

On the other side of the coin neither does the argument from poll numbers. “did you know that 98% of people are in favor of ‘gay marriage?’ Poll numbers can be very interesting for a sociological study, or even for politicians who wish to get reelected. But they do not point to any moral truth. There are many cases where the majority of people could have been convinced of something which is morally repugnant to be favorable, and other times when only a very few people recognize something which is virtuous. I think our mothers were right when they used to ask, “If johnny jumped off a cliff, would you also?” Our mothers said this, not only to draw us out of ourselves and out of the crowd or ‘group think’ but also, to consider for our own motives and consequences of our actions. Just because there are many people who think one way or another does not mean it is right virtuous or morally splendid.
If we are debating moral truth, this argument is a red herring. It is an appeal to “come to the majority side” so that you won’t be looked at as odd or outside the mainstream.

Still another argument which I find more difficult to combat is the argument which says, “I am free, just like everyone else, and I can do whatever I want to do so long as I am not hurting anyone else with what I do.” Now, in a certain sense this is very true. It is certainly the overwhelming social feeling. However, this is not actually a moral argument. This is an ethical argument. Ethics is concerned with sociological aspects of life. Morality, on the other hand, is more concerned with the internal workings of one’s own life. Therefore, this argument is much too simplistic, or too minimalistic for a moral discussion. To consider the moral implications of an act we must also be concerned with not only the act itself. Did it hurt someone else? But, we must also be concerned with the integrity and the motives of the act or decision. I think we need to look much deeper than just the actions themselves. We must also consider the point and purpose of the act. I think I would be very angry with someone who stole my bag from me regardless of what was in it. But, I think I tend to forgive someone who walked away with my bag by mistake, thinking it was his. Both actions had the same impact on me. I lost what was in my bad. Both cases were equally inconvenient to me. But, I am angry with the first man, and not with the second. Yet, I still think that I would just as angry with the first man if he was caught. I retained my bad, and ultimately, was not inconvenienced at all. Why? Because I knew his intent. He was morally wrong because of his intent was to wrong me even though he did not get the opportunity to do so. Morality, therefore, flows into ethics, and not the other way around. Our morality informs our consciences and allows us to act ethically within our society. If we get this backwards we then are taken in by whims of the majority. We quickly will find ourselves almost fluttering in the winds of social changes. Those poll numbers, for example, which we let change our minds on moral issues could change next week. Then where would we stand on that issue? Would we be forced to change our minds once again?

Many of the same types of arguments are used for all of the recent debates. Not only on ‘gay marriage,’ but also on abortion, contraception, in vitro fertilization. The careful reader will note that, I have not, up to this point, actually made any moral arguments. I only wish to bring the discussion back to the moral grounds. I now wish to do my best to explain my understanding of my moral arguments, and, I believe refute some of the opposition’s arguments. I am, and proud to be, a Roman Catholic. I have researched, believe I understand what she teaches on these subjects. And, moreover, I believe they have discerned what is true and moral. Both the false binary world view and the confusion between ethics and morality tend to paint the opposition in a moral debate as a bigot or worse. These bring the arguments down to that minimalistic foundation, on which, there cannot be much progress because we then talk past one another. So then, we must strive, not to spew rhetoric or sentimental acquiescence to social norms, but rather to elevate our selves and our thinking into a richer understanding of our world.

Why is it that the church condemns all of these things? How does the church think it has the authority to come into my private life, my sex life, my very thoughts, and tell me what is right and wrong? Who are they to tell me?

The first part of this answer is quite simple. Its not the church’s fault. It is Jesus, the lord of all, the one who is above all, and above everything who has mandated these things. I am not trying to pass the buck to God here, but rather point out that the Church is a reflection of Christ on earth. Jesus claimed His Church. “on this rock I will build MY Church.” (Mat 16:18) Jesus is the reason Church teaches what she does. In actuality, the church for the last 2000 years has actually been working to try and relax some of the mandates or relax some of the earlier interpretations on the subject of marriage and sexuality. For instance, Jesus never once talked about annulments. Did you realize that the Church is the first religion in the history of the world who’s founder mandates strict monogamous, life-long marriages? Look at any other religion before Christianity and nearly all of them, I have not researched all pre-Christian religions, allow polygamy. Jesus launched a revolution in marriage because he taught that marriage, this primordial covenant is a REAL ONENESS! not just a physical oneness, its not just a physiological oneness it is, indeed, also a spiritual oneness, and a metaphysical oneness. This unity all of these at the same time and in the same place expressed most fully in the act of marriage itself when the two become one flesh. In a very real sense it is only in the marital act a person truly becomes a whole human being. And, in nine months time there is now a child, who, embodies the love between the father and the mother. This child that embodies the oneness that they have become. So that these two become one, and in their oneness they create a third, yet at the same time are still one family. Nowhere in nature except in the family has God given us a more perfect explanation of His love than in the family. This is why when we violate the principles of sexual morality we take something which is holy and place it at the levels of mere animals. In each case contraception, abortion, IVF, per-marrital sex, extra-marital sex, we lose something of our humanity, something of our divine dignity, and we become less than what we are meant to be. We make our very bodies a desecration of something which is meant to be pure and holy. The church is simply drawing attention to the fact that to break apart ANY PART of the covenant commitment the husband gives to the wife, and vice versa is profoundly immoral, and damaging to the person. Perhaps that damage is not readily apparent at the time, because it feels good, but the damage is still done.

This is why we Catholics are so much up in arms about all of these “personal” subjects. Because it they are moral issues. It is a matter, not only of ethics, but of inner personal conviction. What is the purpose of sex itself? What is the meaning of our bodies? What is the meaning of why I feel this call to commitment when I love someone? What is the meaning of marriage? All of these questions are not just about what how I am interacting in society. They are about being true to my creation. They are profoundly personal questions and are thus moral questions, yet the must lead to the ethics of our daily lives. The answers to these questions cannot, in the end, simply be “live and let live.” Or “what I do with my body doesn’t hurt anyone else.” Let’s not be drawn down to this simplistic rhetoric, but be drawn up to what we where meant to be.

Marriage, it is not only a word. No, marriage is a sacred family ‘covenant’ bond which shows not only the holy love that man can have for a woman and their children it shows and expresses and reflects the very Love of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit that proceeds forth from the Father and the Son. God indeed created us for love, and in a deep way for marriage because in all of the aspects of marriage He reveals himself to us through that marriage. He reveals is love and union to us through the unitive nature of marriage. He reveals his creative power to us through the pro-creative aspect of marriage. And he reveals His nature as a family to the world by the example of the family which the couple makes known.
Why is it that to use a contraceptive is sinful? Because it breaks apart the very unit of Love which brings the two together. It turns the marital act into a profound lie rather than a pure expression of Love. Contraception breaks the pro-creative power of marriage. It is sinful because we prevent life by putting up a barrier to that love. It is the same with IVF except that it instead breaks the unitive power of marriage. While it is true that there are very good and noble reasons why a couple perhaps should not have a child at a given time, there is never a time to lie to your spouse. Why is abortion such a desecration? Because we are destroying the life which the union has created.

You covered a lot of good ground. Well said.

Thank you Edward. I’ve been thinking about these things for a while. Thank you for taking the time to read all of it.

Interesting that you brought this up as Father Barron addresses this in a recent editorial which you can read here:

Yes! I love Fr. Barron. I saw this article b him. This was my attempt to synthesize and personalize what he said, as well as add in some of my own thoughts. I had been having these kind of debates on facebook for a while now. I was wondering what other’s on this Forum thought about these topics.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit