by David Beilstein
The good doctor R. Scott Clark has been knocking nonsense and foolishness out for decades. In a recent post, Dr Clark writes – [from a classical liberal perspective] – about a more sensible way religious citizens who are conservative can pursue polity matters in the public sphere in relation to the issue of gay marriage.
Confined largely to Reformational theological issues, Dr Clark is an astute social critic – and the professorial bull dog illustrates a more historical approach to Christian interaction in the secular sphere.
Given that, under the American constitution, we do not have a state religion, the types of arguments Christians can realistically expect to make in the civil sphere as it actually exists are limited. We have American history, our Constitution, the Declaration, Supreme Court decisions and related documents as precedents. The founding documents did not appeal to Scripture but to a shared understanding of “nature” and “nature’s God.” That shared understanding is certainly under assault (as illustrated below) but by asking fellow citizens to recognize and consider language, concepts, and premises that they have already endorsed in the civil sphere, which they cannot openly repudiate without weakening their own case for civil liberties., we have, at least, a place to stand in civil, public discourse.
Dr Clark’s initial premise is the one evangelicals simply do not agree on. That’s a problem. No matter Dr Clark still express an astute understanding of the cultural issues as a conservative:
To my mind the best argument in the civil sphere against homosexual marriage is from God’s revelation of his law in nature. I’ve tried to sketch a case here and here. One of the arguments against homosexual marriage is that the same rationale can and will be used to justify even more aberrant behavior, social patterns and arrangements. If marriage is no longer defined by nature (at least potential procreation) but by consent, affection, and desire then the terms of marriage are malleable. One must simply show that consent and affection exists and the parties to the proposed union are irrelevant. The real argument concerns the legitimacy the relationship. Once that is conceded marriage will inevitably follow as society solemnizes what already exists.
Ironically, in the case of homosexual relationships, it is frequently argued now that it is indeed “natural” insofar as the behavior itself is no longer stigmatized by the APA as a mental illness and it has become widely accepted that homosexuality is a “naturally” occurring phenomenon due to genetics or some other inherent biological cause. Whether science actually knows this to be case is another matter. The elements of consent and affection are easily demonstrated. If these tests can be met for other partners what barriers are there to pedophilia or bestiality?
The pro-homosexual response has been to characterize this criticism as a “slippery slope” argument. An argument is said to be a “slippery slope” when one argues “if we permit p then q will happen.” The question is whether q is inherent in p. If q is not inherent in p then the argument is fallacious.
If, however, q is inherent in p, then it’s not a slippery slope. If the very same sorts of arguments that were being made for homosexual relationships are being made for pederasty or bestiality then the relation between the pro-homosexual argument and the others is established. The same arguments are being made. It is being argued that pederasty and bestiality are 1)natural, 2) consensual, 3) affective.
What interests me here is how Dr Clark presumes the proper parameters for addressing the civil sphere is through appeals to the book of nature (natural law-general revelation) and not to Sacred Scripture. I agree. It rather unfortunate, however, Dr Clark’s views which I agree with are the minority position of those who confess Sacred Scripture to be the very Vox Dei [God’s voice].
Dr Clark continues,
The UK Guardian reports that “experts” are conflicted over whether pedophilia is a bad thing and whether it should perhaps be “normalised.” According to that same paper, “zooists” are also arguing that animals can give consent and have affection for one another. In case you think this is
impossible, Germany legalized bestiality in 1969. They just moved toward banning it again but this has offended “Zoophiles.” As recent social debates have demonstrated, what happens in Europe no longer stays in Europe.
Of course, how it is conservatives and libertarians who oppose Gay “Marriage” cannot have a spokesmen as informed and erudite as Dr Clark pinches ones undergarments. Instead, we have Rick Santorum and his foolhardiness to look forward to. I swear. The more that Santorum opens his mouth the worse it gets for classical liberals.
When it comes to the justification of religious citizens to use natural revelation [the book of nature] instead of special revelation [Holy Scripture] to settle matters pertaining to the civil sphere – Dr Clark summarises with a few paragraphs of noteworthy depth and sound reflection.
Nevertheless, if we begin by appealing to natural law, we may also appeal as Althusius did, to the Mosaic law as a witness or example or outworking of the natural law in a particular instance without becoming embroiled in a difficult argument about biblical hermeneutics. On the same basis we can appeal to other states and civilizations too.
Nevertheless, as a matter of wisdom, it seems to me that, in our post-Christian, post-Constantian setting, we can learn from those early Christian, pre-Constantinian fathers, who, to the degree they made arguments about civil life, did not make them on the basis of special revelation but on the basis of general revelation, which they believed to be accessible to believer and unbeliever alike.
To the objection that Canons of Dort 3/4.4 teach that natural law is inherently insufficient for civil policy: I disagree. That’s not what the text says or implies. First, according to Synod, the problem isn’t with creational boundaries but with us. Second, the question is what “incapable of using it aright even in things natural and civil” means. The phrase “incapable of using it aright” does not mean “incapable of using it at all.” As I’ve argued elsewhere on the HB, that phrase must be understood in its original context not as a prohibition against appeals to divinely established boundaries in creation.