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Lady Liberty

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.


Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Re-reading David Brooks
posted by Bathus

From: Bathus
To: dabrooks@nytimes.com
Sent: Monday, April 18, 2005 10:47 PM
Subject: Re-reading a Piece of Your Work

Dear Mr. Brooks,

Today I happened to re-read one of your pieces that I had taken issue with a few months ago in something I wrote on my blog. This time around, a few lines in your article, The Power of Marriage, really jumped right out at me:
Some conservatives may have latched onto biological determinism . . . as a convenient way to oppose gay marriage. But in fact we are not animals whose lives are bounded by our flesh and by our gender. We're moral creatures with souls . . .
Those words, Mr. Brooks, noble as they aim to be, nevertheless express a fatal ignorance of human nature.

It is the opposite of ironical that you would exalt liberation from the bondage of our fleshy natures as a justification for homosexual acts. If human beings have evolved so far as to be liberated from demands of the flesh, then why isn't homosexual sex, or all sex for that matter, something that can easily be done without? One suspects that those claiming liberation from the flesh wish not so much to be liberated from their fleshy desires, but rather to avoid an accusation that their acts in fulfillment of those desires are proscribed as "unnatural."

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The truth is our lives are "bounded by our flesh and by our gender."

Consider the boundary of our flesh. The "three score and ten" years traditionally allotted has, for a fortunate few in developed countries, been extended somewhat and will no doubt be further extended through the miracles of modern science and technology. Yet no matter how many years we might add to the human life-span, that boundary of our fleshy existence, our mortality, will remain one of the essentially defining facts of our earthly being: We are mortals, contrived of mortal flesh, and by that boundary we are defined in contradistinction to the immortals.

Our mortality is a boundary placed by nature (or, if you prefer, by God) upon our flesh. And if our wonderful science should ever proceed so far that we can escape that boundary here on earth, I am certain that we would be the worse for it--not because life is not sweet, but because in myriad ways death offers meaning to human life, not the least by inspiring us urgently to seek life's meaning and to try to live by it, thereby saving us from an eternal triviality of a perpetual juvenility.

Our fleshy mortality reminds us that the eternal is not (yet) ours and is (still) beyond us. The boundary of our mortal flesh reminds us that the universe is not formed by our desires, that not everything is allowed to us--in other words, that we are not gods.

We should try to keep that in mind.

¤ ¤ ¤ ¤ ¤ ¤

Now consider the boundary of gender. This boundary, the boundary of our reproductive nature, is entwined by nature with the boundary of our mortality. For our reproductive nature is both a reminder of and a compensation for the fact of our mortality. The ever-perspicuous duality of the sexes reminds us that, as mortal humans, we are individually incomplete and insufficient beings, autonomously incapable of sustaining or generating life. Precisely because none of us is immortal, we must procreate to continue human life. The sex act is a primal acknowldgment of one's own mortality. Yet by procreating we participate in some measure here on earth in the eternal being that is otherwise denied to our fleshy nature. But in this, too, we are naturally limited by the boundaries of gender: No man will ever give birth. No woman will ever father a child.

But wait! Have I spoken too soon? Our applied science is already making such things commonplace. (A friend of mine likes to joke that no male will submit to giving birth until technology makes it possible to gestate a baby in a gym bag. Her joke isn't quite as funny as it used to be.)

¤ ¤ ¤ ¤ ¤ ¤

We marvelous humans have before broken through and will in times to come break through many of the boundaries nature has seemed to set for us. Some of those boundaries no doubt should be breached, or at least pushed farther away. But some others should not be. It's a tricky business and deserves more thought than you have put into it.

For it manifests an awesome Sophoclean hubris for you to claim that, as moral beings possessed of souls, we need not consider ourselves bounded by mere flesh. More likely the opposite is true. If we are to remain "moral creatures with souls" intact, then we must remain acutely aware of limits designed upon our mortal nature. If we fine creatures "are not . . . bounded by our flesh and gender," the two most conspicuous and enduring constraints that nature has placed upon us, then one must conclude that there is absolutely nothing in nature that should restrain us. And if we are not bounded somehow by our very own human nature, then what could possibly be an external boundary that we, collectively, should respect? Or do you believe the wish of a majority can license anything, without regard to any external rule? Without even human nature as a standard, by what measure shall we discover any boundary for human action? Surely you don't mean to propose God's law as a socially enforceable limit?

You see, Mr. Brooks, it's not about "biological determinism," but about living in accordance with our natural status as limited creatures. To claim that we are "not bounded by our flesh and gender," the intertwined mortal boundaries, is to stake a claim to godhood.

Oedipus, no doubt, did very much love his mother, yet that did not seem to be a sufficient excuse. As unfair as it seems, and I absolutely insist that this is not a theological statement, some things are not allowed to us as humans, which is not to say that we can't succeed in doing many, most, or all of them anyway at some time or another, but rather that in the process we risk becoming something other than human. When we have learned to despise every limit nature has set before us (or, if you prefer, every limit set by God), will we then have become gods ourselves? Or something else?

posted by Bathus | 4/20/2005 08:18:00 PM
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Blogger James Fletcher Baxter said...

Thus, we have come full circle: Is God God, or are you God?

You already know you are not God. Thus, get real: worship the deserving Creator of all things. God.

Man-made god(s) won't do. Only the God who has come down and personally revealed Himself: 1. Fulfilled Prophetic Validation and 2. Transcendent Criteria in the Holy Bible. There's more...

8:42 AM, April 22, 2005  
Blogger Andrew said...

Nicely done, Balthus. Do let us know if you get a response.

3:31 PM, April 26, 2005  

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