Saturday, October 09, 2004

Sin, Natural Orientation, and Choice

Those who support ordaining gays contend Scripture does not ban same-sex relationships, and that there was no understanding in biblical times that homosexuality was a natural orientation, not a choice.

Following a link ("Episcopalians") from the blog of Fr. Joseph Hunnicutt (Orthodixie: see sidebar), I found an article which contained the amazing statement quoted above. The most amazing part is this: "there was no understanding in biblical times..." On a par with that is what follows: the concept that homosexuality is a natural orientation, and not a choice. When was this determined to be true?

It is entirely possible (and plausible) to take the arguments for homosexuality as a "natural orientation" and use, in place of homosexuality, the idea of non-monogamy among heterosexuals, and have an equally-valid sounding proposition. Examined from the standpoint of biology alone, it makes more sense for the male to seek to inseminate as many females as possible, in order to enhance the distribution of his genetic information. Similarly, why should a female be limited to reproducing with only one male? The chances of her genetic material being passed to succeeding generations must surely be better enhanced by having multiple offspring with multiple sires -- right? But no one, really, is making this argument; so why do we accept the "natural orientation" argument for homosexuality?

Often left undiscussed in this is the distinction between "orientation" and "behavior." One's "orientation" may, indeed, be directed in a manner that is inappropriate, even forbidden, to be put into action: this is true of both homosexual desires and the desires for other forms of sexual expression and activity outside of marriage. Here, homosexuality is neither better or worse than adultery or fornication. Having such an "orientation" is not, of itself, a sin; but acting upon the impulses that arise therefrom may very well be sinful, and therefore condemned.

Behavior is a choice. To say otherwise is to make the person the captive of his nature -- but this is not what we, as Orthodox Christians, believe. For us, the "nature" (ousia) defines the sum total of our being, with all its inherent potentials and limitations. Natures, however, simply "are" -- they do not act. For the nature to be put into action, it requires a person (hypostasis). Thus natures do not act; persons put the nature into action.

Are we limited by our nature? If we reply that this is true, we make ourselves nothing more than animals, who act primarily upon instinct, although the ability to learn is not entirely absent. But we are more than this: we have the ability to reason, and to remember, and to perform abstract calculations, and to use our imagination. We can discern and employ cause and effect, and can determine right and wrong, and recognize good and evil. We can recognize an impulse towards a negative, and restrain ourselves (although this takes time, and effort, and an act of our will); we can recognize an opportunity for good, and choose to act to accomplish this good. As human beings, we are made in the image, and after the likeness, of God. As such, we are more than animals; we are but a little lower than the angels.

All of us are beset with passions, with sinful desires and impulses. Do we act upon these? Then we have sinned. Do we resist them? Then we do rightly.

There is another point to consider regarding our nature. The human nature we possess is a fallen nature; not at all what we were meant to be before our protoparents chose to disobey the commandment of God in the Garden of Eden. There was no escape for us from this nature; yet this did not prevent God from requiring holiness from us, as evidenced by the law of the Old Covenant. And then, in the fullness of time, God sent His Son, and we who were under the law were delivered from the same, being a new creation in Christ Jesus our Lord. Thus, we have in Christ the ability to transcend our old nature; which has been buried with Christ in our baptism. We have been given a new life, the life of our Lord, risen from the dead, and no longer subject to sin or death. We have been given the Holy Spirit to enlighten us to the truth, and to empower us in our new life in Christ. We have the ability to choose to follow the divinely-given impulses to the good; and to resist and overcome the desires to sin. Sin is always a choice. To say otherwise makes us the slaves of a fallen nature, and the servants of a lie.