Interaction: God, Science, Sex, Gender – An Interdisciplinary Approach to Christian Ethics (2)

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This will be a continuing dialogue as I read through this book. (Part 1)

The second series of essays, classified under the heading of Reflecting on Human Sexual Diversity, provide a series of entries from evolutionary biologists who disagree with Darwin on sexual selection and one who does not disagree. This series also includes theologians grappling with recent Vatican documents giving theological treatments to them as well as important Scriptural texts used to justify the differentiation of genders. The strength of this series, so far, has been the diversity in approaches, mixing not only disciplines but also trying to have a parallel discussion with science and religion without making one bow to the other.

The first two essays, the first by Joan Roughgarden and the second by Terry Grande and Joel Brown (with Robin Colburn), are complimentary to one another with both challenging traditional Darwinist understandings of sexuality in nature. Far from the usual role applied to procreation by Darwinist science, such as sexual selection for the security of the species, ]] postulates that more often in nature than not, sexual selection is made more for social infrastructure, providing for intimate bonds which prevent the dissolution of society. For Roughgarden, homosexuality then ‘is not against nature, it is an adaptive part of nature.’ (103). Here theories are hardly met with applause by the majority of evolutionary scientists who still follow Darwin’s thoughts on sexual selection in nature. Grande and Brown take Roughgarden’s hypothesis and further it by suggesting that humanity, especially sexuality, may be evolving because we are ‘now operating in environments and social circumstances for which they neither evolved nor were adapted in a Darwinian sense.’ (p106). It is, they rightly postulate, an environment (culture, society, etc…) that we have manufactured for ourselves, which has disconnected us from what has gone before. Of course, neither focus on the history of homosexuality and sexual uses in previous societies but they are approaching it from a scientific angle and in the end both determine that science must stand as a counter to ‘Christian traditions’ in their claim of ‘timeless and ordained model(se) of human sexual behavior.’ (p121).

The essays written by Pamela L. Caughie (“Passing” and Identity: A Literary Perspective on Gender and Sexual Diversity) and James Calcagno ( Monogamy and Sexual diversity in Primate: Can Evolutionary Biology Contribute to Christian Sexual Ethics?) are two of the most rewarding of the series, especially from a non-theological standpoint. Caughie delves deep into the making of the person, whether male or female, with social contributions. Using ]]’s work with Herculine Barbin as well as the example of Virgina Wolfe, Caughie draws the implications of the ideal of a male and female only gender network, noting that there are medical examples to the contrary and they aren’t new. Further, while her stances hardly contribute to the theological understandings of such things, she encourages her audience to read past the rhetoric of gender ‘to the meaningful content beneath’ (p152) of the person. But using examples of literature which reflect ‘real life’ I believe that more should take note of her point.

Calcagno, in the tenth essay, writes, much to the chagrin of Roughgarden, I am sure, in support of Darwin’s natural selection theories. All the while noting the diverse sexual practices in primates and their social connections. He throws some heavy questions at both sides in the debate in noting that monogamy is not natural, but rather the perverse norm in most mammals, numbering about 3%. Of course, in the 900 human cultures survived by Murdock, only 16% of them were considered monogamous (p163). He also notes that the more financial independent the genders are, the less likely monogamy is in the culture. He cautions, at the end of his essay, about the use of the animal kingdom to set human ethics (pg164), noting that of all the mammals, humans have the capacity to love, to be faithful, and to be unselfish (p163, citing Fuentes). By far and large, it is clearly the most theological of the scientific essays, in that it sets human above the animal kingdom and focuses the discussion on not what can be excused, but what should be striven for – the ideal.

The remaining two essays in this section deal expressly with theological interaction which developed Roman Catholic discussions. John McCarthy writes on Interpreting the Theology of Creation: Binary Gender in Catholic Thought while Robert Di Vito writes on “In God’s Image” and “Male and Female”: How a Little Punctuation Might Have Helped. While McCarthy writes from the spectrum of the theologian, Di Vito employs biblical studies as well as the linguistic study of Hebrew to stand against the usual Catholic, and in many times, over-arching Christian theological treatment of Genesis 1.27. McCarthy urges that the theology of creation be used in such a way as to make the ‘love your neighbor’ infused with Creation. For him, ‘becoming a neighbor is, theological, participation in the love of God that makes a person.’ (p137). For McCarthy, the ‘other’ becomes a person to be loved inside of the theology of Creation. Di Vito almost takes issued with the theological only position such as McCarthy’s and Pope John Paul II’s encyclical ]].

In his essay, Di Vito takes aim at the usual interpretation and thus theological understanding of Genesis 1, insisting instead that it be read in such a way that it produces unity of humanity at first. By doing so, he would hearken back to ancient philosophers, but allow as will the Wisdom Christology by later authors, and help to further the conversation on Galatians 3.26-28. His essay is one which is heightened by his ‘discovery’, providing not only insight into the New Creation, but He in whom we have this New Creation. I cannot say more about his essay without giving away the centrality of the argument, but it is one which must be developed later and used in the egalitarian and complimentarian debates which so many are having today.

Regarding gender issues, Di Vito stands as the most enlightening essay while in the arena of sexual diversity, Calcagno comes the closest to providing for Christian ethics in the discussion, all the while supposing that he is only a scientist.

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