The view that there are no right or wrongs in sexual ethics is strongly based on an assumption that there are no moral absolutes either. A moral absolute is a rule which applies universally, with no legitimate exceptions, and many people would agree with the notion that such stringent rules are inapplicable to such a topic. Most rules regarding sexuality are derived from religious texts, mostly ancient: and it may be argued that they are not always relevant to today’s society. For example; the prohibition on divorce was brought about in past years to aid the building of a stable family structure in close communities and villages. This however, is not an issue in today’s society, and divorce often leads to happier homes and family units, with many children living part time with one or another parent.
Perhaps another more relevant example is the question of homosexuality, which is a continually raging question of right and wrong; especially within the Christian church. There has been controversy and debate regarding homosexual ministers in the Anglican and Catholic Church for years. But for many of those years, homosexuality was a criminal wrong doing, for which gays could be imprisoned or fined and many gay men would marry heterosexually to deny to the law, the church or even family and friends or themselves. This was up until the homosexual reform act in 1967, after which society’s view of gay couples became a less disdainful one and in 2004 the civil partnership act made gay marriages as legally valid as heterosexual ones.
The Christian church however, may argue that God’s law does not change, and moral law does not change with civil law. The teachings about homosexuality are made quite clear by Leviticus 18:22 ‘do not lie with a man as you would lie with a woman, God hates that.’ Taken out of context, however, this verse becomes a pretext and the teachings about homosexuality are far outweighed by other texts. E.g. Apostle Paul gives the Ten Commandments; ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself.’ And so, for Christians and various other religions, the matter of right and wrong in sexual ethics is an important one. But for those who do not base their lives around the teachings of religion, it is perhaps more sensible to apply ones own intuition to a situation. To apply moral absolutes to sexual ethics seems to be somewhat unwise, and brought into today’s society, some of the rules can cause more harm than good. For example, from the Westborough Baptist church, a group called ‘ihatefags.com’ has formed. Their action against gays is contradictory as they go to an extreme to defend a particular text with no regard for others against their cruelty and abuse.
To what extent is it reasonable to argue that sexual ethics must be linked to religious belief?
Religious ethics is often based on a strong foundation of moral absolutes and most religious believe do not tend to feel comfortable is behaving in a manner that goes against their faith. I will refer again to the example of homosexuality and begin by entertaining the idea of an eve-angelical Christian’s opposition to such sexuality. There is no absurdity in someone of this faith to do so, and the opposition is closely connected to the teachings of their faith; ‘Do not lie with a man as you would lie with a woman, God hates that.’ (Leviticus 18:22) Many followers of the Christian faith are quite accepting of gay couples in today’s society but remain strongly in the belief that it is wrong according to their religion. Difficulties arise when the behaviour or religious groups in adhering to these teachings is challenged by modern day society which may lead to something more offensive.
For example the group ‘Ihatefags.com’ from the Westborough Baptist church declares that all homosexuals and those on support of them will ‘go to hell’. Such behaviour is severely contradictory if they claim to uphold God’s law. In this case we see an example of a conflict caused by a moral teaching which may in fact be intended for another time or place. The teaching from Leviticus is far outweighed by countless other texts in the bible which command Christian followers to ‘love they neighbour’. The parable of the Good Samaritan if applied to the matter of Homosexuals would provide a good topic for debate. Would those involved with ‘Ihatefags.com’ stop to help a gay man if he was injured on the street? If not, surely they are not adhering to the teachings of the bible themselves. The extremes to which this group go to defend one text does, in fact refute the belief in an all loving God. It is counter-intuitive. And so we see the difficulty in applying some laws regarding sexual ethics to today’s society, also hoe the adherence to one moral law can lead to the refutation about a bigger belief.
Some may argue that our human intuition provides a much clearer guide to that which is right and wrong. For example, in the case of an incestuous rape from which a twelve year old child becomes pregnant, it would seem wrong to apply the religious teachings regarding abortion. As humans, our instincts often provide us with a good moral guide. But the most sensible argument seems to point towards this idea:
YES: let intuition play a role.
YES: refer to religious teachings.
But: if religious teachings are counter intuitive, then disregard them for intuition.
This is more situational, and the initiative to apply situation ethics in sexual ethics seems to be a sensible one. In many cases, the renewal of religious teachings for modern day society is a good alternative. Pope Benedict II is infact reconsidering the ban on contraception in ‘Aids ridden countries’ and indeed, although advised against in the bible, could save millions of lives and our intuition tells us that it is the right decision.
The weight of the arguments has lead me to believe that, although religious teachings should play a role in the matter of sexual ethics, a more situational approach which also refers to our consciences and intuitions seems to provide a good balance. I believe that reliance wholly on religious texts can create more harm than good in this society.