Robert Reilly. Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2014. 250 pp. $22.95.
With the recent launch of Evangelicals for Marriage Equality, Robert Reilly’s latest work, Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything, could not be more relevant to Christians who desire to think carefully about the so-called gay marriage debate.
Although Reilly wouldn’t locate himself within the evangelical tradition—he is a Catholic scholar and apologist—he has much to offer evangelicals who sense a deep contradiction between the order of creation and homosexual acts, or who are still undecided over the question of same-sex “marriage.”
Two Views of Reality: Aristotle vs. Rousseau
Reilly’s basic premise is simple. At bottom in the debate over same-sex “marriage” are two opposing views of reality. On one side you have a vision of reality where nature “is teleologically ordered to ends that inhere in their essence and make them what they are” (xi). On the other is the view that things in themselves do not have a “teleologically ordered” purpose but rather can be made what they are by an act of the will. Thus, as Reilly astutely observes, the same-sex “marriage” debate is about more than just marriage. “Since the meaning of our lives is dependent upon the Nature of reality, it too hangs in the balance” (xii). The acceptance of homosexual “marriage,” then, is not necessarily the intellectual and moral progression of an enlightened society; it has the potential to turn us against reality and the nature of our existence as humans.
To place his argument within the historical narrative, Reilly draws from two spokesmen for these opposing interpretations of reality. The ancient philosopher Aristotle (384–322 B.C.) sees something in the composition of humankind that tells us that certain sexual practices are morally wrong and opposed to our design. Further, Aristotle observes that the family—with marriage consisting exclusively of a man and a woman—provides the essential (i.e., irreducible) foundation for society.
Conversely, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) rejected the notion that man has a nature that determines what he should be. Additionally, according to Rousseau, “man’s prepolitical life begins not with the family, but with himself, as an isolated individual . . . [where] ‘one suffices to oneself, like God'” (28). Individual man is to be independent of his fellow humans, and fully dependent upon the state (30). Thus, Reilly continues, “Rousseau’s program was to politicize society totally, and his first target was society’s foundation—the family—the primary means by which men are curbed of that total self-absorption to which Rousseau wished them to return” (30–31). Reilly marks the implication for the debate over so-called same sex marriage:
If the family is artificial in its origins, as Rousseau claimed, then it can be changed and rearranged in any way the state or others may desire. Any such change is simply a shift in convention (as there is no teleological Nature), a change in a cultural artifact. We can revise human relations any way we choose. Whoever has sufficient power may make these alterations to suit himself. . . . Pointing out that there has never been such a thing as homosexual marriage in history his superfluous if man’s nature is malleable, the product of history. (31)
The logic of Rousseau’s vision for humanity is now firmly embedded in the current socio-political debate over the moral legitimacy of same-sex “marriage.” Sadly, as Reilly illustrates in subsequent chapters as he relates the matter to issues of justice, biology, contemporary legislation, education, the military, and foreign policy, such logic is slowly but surely rending the fabric and basis of American society and destroying the people who have embraced the notion that sexuality can, without consequence, be altered to suit individual desires. Men and women may turn with all their might against their God-endowed design for sexuality, but reality will win out in the end.
While each of Reilly’s chapters is useful to Christians who desire a better handle on the issues at play in the homosexual “marriage” debate, I want to highlight two that I believe are especially pertinent.
Approving Homosexual 'Marriage' and Loving Our Neighbor
In the chapter “Lessons from Biology,” Reilly aims to bring readers face-to face with the destructive nature of homosexual acts, particularly sodomy. Evangelicals who champion “love” as the irrefutable measure of morality would do well to brace themselves and read this section. Indeed, when Christians approve of and promote homosexual “marriage,” the context in which homosexual acts are performed, they are abdicating Christ’s call to love their neighbor. Reilly’s discussion of the health perils that attend male homosexual practice illustrate one reason why.
In an earlier discussion on the purpose of human sexuality, Reilly observes that heterosexual intercourse is, by nature, unitive and productive: sex between a man and his wife leads to a one-flesh union and (in most cases) to children. Not so with sodomy. By design, there can be no “anatomical fit” between two men since, unlike female genitalia, the receptive organ used in homosexual “intercourse” is “solely . . . excretory . . . it is an exit, not an entrance” (53). Because the body is being used in a way contrary to its design, anal intercourse unsurprisingly leads to serious health problems for practicing homosexual men. It is well documented that higher rates of rectal cancer, rectal prolapse, perforation, chlamydia, cryptosporidiosis, giardiasis, viral hepatitis B, syphilis, HIV, and AIDS afflict men who participate in homosexual “intercourse.” No Christian should wish to put his neighbor in the way of such harm.
Reilly’s other chapters are just as trenchant. In “Inventing Morality” he demonstrates the incoherence of court decisions that attempt to legitimize same-sex “marriage” while ignoring the sexual basis for such “marriages” as though acts like sodomy are morally neutral. Actually, as Reilly argues, the legitimization of same-sex “marriage” is, by definition, the pronouncement that such acts are inherently moral. The argument that people have a right to do in their private sexual lives whatever they want cannot bear logical scrutiny either, for such a claim (once it has legal endorsement by the court) undoes any basis on which we can consistently reject pedophilia, bigamy, incest, prostitution, and bestiality as moral evils. Reilly is right: Rationalizing homosexual behavior is changing everything.
Natural Law, Scripture, and the Culture War
Reilly’s work is not perfect. The biggest problem for many evangelicals will probably be his dependence on natural law and human reason to arbitrate moral and ethical questions. Natural law can only tell us so much—it doesn’t provide vital theological categories like “fall,” “justification,” “sanctification,” or “new creation”—and an unqualified appeal to human reason may end up undermining our arguments if we aren’t careful to establish a supra-human authority (namely, a word from the Creator himself) that can ground and adjudicate our ethical reflections.
Further, because of his categorical reliance on natural law and reason to establish his argument, Reilly cannot finally offer hope to practicing homosexuals or those who oppose gay “marriage.” The former are told merely to “change,” for it is in their nature to do so; the latter, without the gospel, are equipped to fight a culture war and nothing more. We might be outfitted with weapons sufficient to disarm our opponents, but we are nothing more than rogue militants if we enter the fray without an edict of peace from the King. Medical statistics and logical arguments are not enough.
Despite these weaknesses, however, I believe the evangelical reader, working from a solid biblical and theological framework, can profit from Reilly’s keen logic, careful research, and dogged refusal to let Rousseau have the last word. God-created reality will always trump man’s attempt to construct an artificial morality, even while he does whatever he can to continue believing the lie.