An ever-popular and decisive debate in popular culture centers around the issue of gay marriage. This summer I have been tossing around some thoughts on language and I think they might be relevant here.
The debate (in Canada at any rate) often comes up when members of clergy refuse to perform weddings for homosexual couples. The real problem, I would like to suggest, is one of language. English only has one word for that particular union between two people, that is "marriage". I would like to suggest that much of our current conflict could be diverted if we were more clear in our definition of this word.
For the Church, marriage is a symbol of Christ's relationship with the Church, and more importantly a symbol of the Trinity (particularly in it's procreative capacity). For more on the Church's view on marriage see the discussion held by St. Margaret's Parish here.
The state on the other hand, has a much simpler non-sacramental view of marriage that views marriage as a certain intimate legal contract between two people.
Now the state has decreed that marriage, as they define it, applies to homosexuals, so when a homosexual goes to a church and asks a clergy member to marry them, they believe they are asking for what they have a right to. However, when they ask for this in the Church, they are asking for something that is quite different than they think they are asking for. The Church's definition of marriage would actually probably disqualify many heterosexual couples (again, see "Human Sexuality and the Nuptial Mystery"), Christians are therefore not necessarily being discriminatory, it is rather that there are conflicting definitions that lead people to assume that two quite different unions are
The Church has an ancient tradition of civil union between two partners (regardless of sex) that is blessed in the Church, but IS NOT MARRIAGE (as understood by the Church). Perhaps a change in terminology would go a long way towards defusing some of the tension in this debate.
The state definition says that homosexuals have all the rights and privileges of heterosexuals, this does not seem problematic. What would be problematic is the destruction of this sacramental symbol. Perhaps as Christians it is our duty to more clearly define what it is that marriage is, and how that affects both hetero and homosexual couples.
What other debates do you see that the language we use regarding them unnecessarily inflates them?
|Kyle Derkson, VDB, Harley Dyck|
Near the end of the evening, PFC Übermensch Mark Jensen suggested that each of us set out a "thesis" (i.e., some philosophical topic that interests us). Each of us "defended" a thesis, which was great fun. Some theses included examining the criteria of historicity used in the Jesus quest/s (Jeff Honsberger); studying the logic of language used in God-talk and studying its relevance to persuasion (Kyle Derkson); exploring the philosophy of music (David Ward); defending the notion of objectivity in objective truth (VDB). Some PFC members (Harley Dyck, Mark Jensen, and Jordan Ross) kindly put their thesis statements to print, so below I publish their thesis statements for the reader's enjoyment.
(Note to Jeff, Kyle, and David: If I have misrepresented your theses, I apologize; it was getting late and I should have been taking notes.)
"My thesis would (at this moment) be an exploration of the application of Christian morality to the question of violence. Is violence ever good or justifiable? Is there a difference? What about 'redemptive violence'? What of the arguments for the just war position? Is Christianity really pacifistic? What of Bonhoeffer's idea that following God's will should come before questions of applied ethics?
"I have been contemplating this topic for quite a while now, and am beginning to reach some conclusions. Interestingly, some of my conclusions have been disturbing and uncomfortable, so more contemplation will definitely follow in this area."
"My thesis, which I intend to write in 2012-2013 at CMU, is on the relationship between Immanuel Kant's philosophy of religion and his early upbringing in Lutheran Pietism. More specifically, I want to answer the question of whether Immanuel Kant's understanding of pure religion bears the markings of his earlier religious upbringing in Lutheran Pietism. It is often noted in scholarly literature that Kant has absorbed Christian language and filtered it through his philosophy, but no one has provided more than an assertion to this point. I intend to investigate this question, primarily through looking at Kant's later writings on religion (Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, The Conflict of the Faculties, The End of All Things).
"Why am I interested in such a subject that seems to be, on first glance, boring and pointless? I think that if such a connection between Kant and Pietism can be demonstrated it can help give us a glimpse into how we got from the German Enlightenment to Protestant liberalism and Evangelicalism. Of course, sketching such a genealogy would be beyond the scope of a graduate thesis. I only wish to fill in one piece of the puzzle."
"My 'thesis' (not a thesis in a formal sense, but just something that I've been thinking about recently) is simply, 'What is the best way to characterize the relationship between a thinker's biography and his or her ideas?' On one extreme we have the view, represented by Roland Barthes, that one does not need to know anything about a thinker's biography to adequately understand that thinker's ideas. On the other extreme we have a view, sometimes seen amongst 20th century psychoanalytic thinkers and some current postmodern theorists, that biography determines a thinker's ideas. I'm trying to sort through all this and come up with a more moderate, but also a more nuanced view on the matter. I'm motivated to do this because I think getting this relationship between idea and biography right can help correct misunderstandings of certain thinkers."
Ah, the joys of fine philosophy, fine food, and fine friends!