This essay is the tenth part of my critical and analytical review of Karen Keen, Scripture, Ethics, and the Possibility of Same-Sex Relationships.* Today I will deal with chapter 7, “Is it Adam’s Fault? Why the Origin of Same-sex Attraction Matters.”
Does the Origin of Same-sex Attraction Matter?
In chapter 7, Keen argues that one’s view on the origin of same-sex attraction matters in assessing its moral status. She considers three options on the issue of origins.
The first view asserts that same-sex attraction is rooted in our “moral fallenness”—some form of the doctrine of original sin—that is, the universal tendency to sin inherited from Adam. In this case same-sex desire falls into the same category as other such sinful desires as lust, pride, greed, envy, and hate. Individuals are morally culpable both for the desire and the acts that gratify the desire. We are obligated not to act on these desires and to purify our hearts of them insofar as possible. Keen rejects the first option as untenable exegetically and theologically and erroneous according to the best scientific understanding of human origins. According to Keen, the story of the creation and fall of human beings in “Genesis portrays a theological and not a scientific account of human origins.”
The second option locates the origin of same-sex attraction in “natural fallenness.” Natural fallenness refers to the divine “curse” resulting from the fall (Genesis 3) and includes sickness, death, and natural evils. On this reading, same-sex attraction falls into the same category as birth defects, chemical imbalances, abnormal brain development, genetic diseases, and other deviations from health of body and mind. Those afflicted with such ills had no choice in the matter. Keen seems to think the second option is an improvement over the first, because it does not attribute same-sex attraction to a morally corrupt nature or malicious choices. Drawing on her hermeneutical studies in previous chapters—for example, Paul’s accommodation of some single people’s inability to remain celibate—Keen argues that evangelical believers ought to accommodate this “disability” in the same way we have accommodated other “imperfections” among people. Allowing gay and lesbian people to form “covenanted relationships” for “companionship and support” would be the most helpful way to enable people “to live with the actual bodies they have.” It is clear, however, that Keen does not think that this view accounts for all the biological, psychological, and experiential data, for it implies that there is something wrong or “imperfect” with gay and lesbian people. Gay and lesbian Christians would inevitably be treated as second class citizens of the kingdom of God.
The third option, clearly preferred by Keen, treats same-sex attraction as a natural variation within a population—morally neutral and non-disabling. Only about ten percent of the human population, for example, is left-handed. Historically, left-handed people were considered flawed and devious. Even in the modern era parents and therapists attempted to “fix” left-handed people. There is now in the Western world a consensus that “there is nothing wrong with being left-handed.” Keen recommends that Christians view same-sex desire in the same way as we view left-handedness, as a natural variation that consistently characterizes three to five percent of the population. It is not a sin or a curse but a “gift of difference.”
What is the force of Keen’s argument?
Keen’s argument progresses from a viewpoint that roots same-sex desire in Adam’s sin to a view that roots it in the negative effects (the curse) of Adam’s sin to a view that denies altogether the immoral or defective nature of the origins of same-sex desire. In other words, the force and direction of the argument from the origin of same-sex desire to its moral status changes as Keen’s argument progresses. As Keen presents it, the first view taints present same-sex attraction with the sinful character of its origin in Adam’s sin. The second view removes the taint of sin from same-sex attraction but leaves unchanged its status as a defect and a wound caused by the sin of Adam.
The third view, however, roots same-sex desire in undefined, chance variations within natural processes. Keen draws the following conclusion–which I have summarized in my own words–from the third view: Since the origin of same-sex desire is morally neutral, the desire itself is morally neutral, and if the desire is morally neutral, acting on the desire must also be morally neutral.
Notice how the force of Keen’s final conclusion depends on her accepting the apparent connection made in the first option between the moral status of the origin of same-sex attraction and its present moral status. She treats the first option as if it claimed to derive its knowledge of the present sinful nature of same-sex attraction exclusively from its acquired knowledge of its sinful origin. This is not true. To the contrary, traditionalists assume—whether they are aware of it or not—that the origin of same-sex attraction must be a sinful act because they already know from biblical moral teaching that same-sex intercourse and the desires that lead to it are sinful. At the risk of repetition let me repeat: the moral character of the hidden origin of a desire is revealed by the manifest moral character of the act arising from the desire—not the other way around.
If I am right about this reversal of order, Keen’s argument will not hold and her conclusion, stated in italics above, does not follow. Contrary to the direction of Keen’s logic, she can know that the origin of same-sex attraction is morally neutral only because she already knows that same-sex attraction is morally neutral on other grounds—not the other way around as her argument leads us to believe. She knows that same-sex attraction cannot be a divine curse following on the sin of Adam because she knows on other grounds that it is not a curse at all. What are these other sources of Keen’s knowledge that same-sex attraction is morally neutral? The answer to this question will have to wait for another day.
All three options beg the question. They assume from the beginning what they ostensibly set out to prove, moving in one giant circle. Contrary to its intentions, this chapter teaches us that speculation about origin of a characteristic cannot help us determine its present moral status. Such fallacious reasoning vitiates all three options and is correctly labeled the “genetic fallacy.”
*Note: As a matter of fairness and honesty, I ask you not to take my restatement and interpretation of Keen’s thought as identical to her own. I’ve tried to be fair, but if you want to represent her views to others please read her book for yourself or explain that you read about her views in my essays. Also, Keen made two replies to my essays in which she points out what she considers to be misrepresentations of her views in my review. You can find her replies among the “replies” to part seven, “In the Dark All Cats are Black.”
Thanks again Ron for pointing out the fallacies in her argument. For her to be correct you would have to read Paul’s statement in Romans 1: 26-27 in a way that is opposite of the way he says it. For example, You would have to say that practicing homosexuality is natural not unnatural as Paul says. Also, you would have to say that there will be no penalty for this even though Paul says there will be. Then you would have to say that it is not a perversion although Paul says it is. Wow, what if we applied this type of logic and hermeneutic to all other passages in the Bible that are difficult and we don’t like?
Correct. The only way around what you are saying would be to interpret these verses the way progressives do, that is, argue that Paul is not talking about loving, covenantal same-sex relationships but some other abusive set of relationships or simply that Paul did not have the benefit of modern biological science and psychological studies. Or, perhaps that Paul was biased and mistaken in thinking these relationships cause harm to individuals or societies.. Modern people, somehow, know better what is healthy and good. I don’t see how an evangelical person could consistently adopt such strategies.
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