Friday, February 05, 2010

A Day at School

Yesterday, I had the privilege of spending the day at a local parochial high school speaking with students taking religion/theology classes. The original idea was that as an Eastern priest I would supplement the professor's lectures/discussions on the topic at hand with the Byzantine perspective. This was interesting in itself as I found them be intelligent, thoughtful and interested in hearing different opinions and views. They were very polite and commendable youngsters (yes, I'm old enough to join the ranks of Ed Sullivan in calling them "youngsters"). Thus, by the end of the second class, the professor and I decided that it might be interesting if I simply presented the option to either speak on their recent subject of study or offer a period of free-wheeling questions and answers.

It should surprise no one that given the option, the overwhelming choice was the Q&A format.

Now to set the scene so that you don't misinterpret the atmosphere of the classroom, I wasn't there in "civvies" (although, an argument could be made that in reality I was in civvies), I was in my customary Anteri, sporting a pectoral Russian-style crucifix, and a skouphos. In a generation of young people conditioned to see 'celebrities' in all manner of dress - exotic dress, partial dress, and even eye-averting undress - my simple garb still managed to draw attention and provoke a few questions.

"What's that on you head?"
 "A hat. Next question...." - Actually, I gave a more serious reply after the joking one.

What should be even less surprising about these groups of all-too-soon-to-be-adults was the fact that each class (all to whom it was offered) chose the Q&A option, and the main subject discussed concerned sexuality. Topics mostly focused on a) gay marriage and homosexuality as an acceptable moral option; b) extra-marital sexual activities as an innocent past time, including 'the private and innocent' practice of masturbation; c) and the moral rightness of government sanctioned abortion.

During the intermission between classes prior to our first presenting a class with the Q&A option, the professor explained that over a decade ago when he began speaking about moral topics with students and prophesied that 'gay marriage' was a swiftly coming future reality they laughed at him. Over time, however, the students' reaction to this issue evolved from derision to grumbling to silence to tacit support to the current typical reaction. The current typical reaction has been a vociferous defence of 'gay marriage', homosexuality, extra-marital sex, masturbation and the inalienable 'right' for a woman to choose abortion. The professor gave me this information to forewarn me that I was likely in for a difficult discussion with very opinionated, earnest youngsters who were familiar with and already rejected the pat answers of basic ethical and Christian moral alternatives.

In all the classes I attended yesterday, and in particular those with the Q&A option, I was certainly not disappointed. The students were intelligent and considerate (both in terms of manners and in terms of having thought through their positions). They were open to listening to opposing views, but expected them to be argued with sincerity and a 'reasonableness' that seriously addressed their own views. They were on guard against inconsistency and rightly demanded that explanations were coherent.

It is beyond the scope of this entry to detail the content and specifics of each and every question we discussed. However, I consider several factors that seemed to play into my receiving a positive reception from our discussions.

1) Every question must be taken seriously. If it's a silly question, use the serious stance behind it as the point deserving response.

2) The issue of sexuality is (no surprise) a topic dealing both with the physical and the emotional self of each individual. It is best to separate these aspects and deal with the physical first - and from essentially basic physio-biological premises. This gives honest and obvious answer to the impracticability and contrary to nature interaction of homosexual acts.

Then focus on the psychological/emotional aspect. The inability of same sex acts to fulfill the mystery of the fulfillment of the couple's personhood leads to a devalued object-focused view of the other. The inability to truly give oneself leads to a pleasure-seeking mindset which, even rising to the level of conscious emotional feeling, requires one to devalue one's own personhood to maintain the illusion.

3) Consistency and faithfulness to Christian morality demands that we admit, or assert, that heterosexual activities that are similar to those activities available to homosexuals are equally wrong in that they, too, devalue the personhood of the other, treating them as objects from which to obtain selfish pleasure.

4) Emphasis on the unacceptability of sexual activity outside of marriage must include reference to anthropological evidence of the continuity of single male and single female unions being the historic reality. Note should be made the from an 'evolutionary' perspective sociological arrangements that are not conducive to maintenance of the race tend to die out.

5) Promiscuity as just another species of objectification for selfish pleasure and its demeaning effects on both individuals should be clarified. In this regard, I typically make mention that if your boyfriend/girlfriend wants to have sex with you, you know one thing about him/her. He/She is willing to have sex with someone with whom they are not married. (This pronouncement is usually followed by several seconds of reflective silence.)

6) The topic of abortion must begin with the physiological reality that what is conceived in the womb is, in actual fact, a human being. Note the genetic difference of the pre-born child versus the mother - forestalling the 'right to judge for her own body' fallacy. Note the inevitability that such a 'woman's rights' approach is ultimately a pro-slavery position in that the pre-born child is essentially treated as property to be disposed of at will. The "it's just tissue" argument is no less immoral as they argument that a slave doesn't share certain features with the master, be it race, ethnicity, etc.. The question of human rights should lead to the observation that human rights must extend equally to all humans and this necessarily includes the pre-born.

Reference may be taken to the Netherlands law that allows parents to decide to euthanize a child at will up to the age of five. If it is accepted as immoral to do this to a child at five years, what about five months? what about five months after conception? Objects based on the potential for birth defects are addressed by this approach as well. The dignity of the individual person deserves respect no matter what their "physical handicap".

In this regard, it can be noted that while the brain is the organ that allows an individual to interact with others and the world in general, it is a fallacy to believe that the brain is the seat of the human soul. Those dying of Alzheimer's disease or brain cancer still possess human dignity until the moment of natural death. To posit otherwise leads to the illogical conclusion that inconsistent or arbitrary judgments would determine the 'death' of the individual instead of the natural and obvious indicators.

7) The question of the potential death of the mother due to the pregnancy is addressed by focusing on the purpose of medical action to save the mother, which proceeds without the specific intention to take the life of the child (that such an outcome would only be incidental to the goal of saving the mother). The case of pregnancy due to rape entails the obvious but too often overlooked axiom that two wrongs don't make a right. Arguments that carrying the child to term would psychologically harm the mother entail an assumption that is equally countered by the parallel that example being raped and shooting one's husband (presuming he is not the rapist) would be illogical and immoral as a solution. Final emphasis on the innocence of the pre-born child conceived as a result of rape should also be stressed as an essential reality in the belief that all human beings share an equal dignity that deserves equal respect.

I trust that the actual conversations I had with the youngsters yesterday were more pointed and certainly better argued than these summary notes. However, beginning with the sciences, which are in principle morally neutral, and then reminding of the Church's teaching and its coherence and consistency with the science is an approach that seems not usually taken. My experience in supporting life issues, however, has show this approach to have the advantage of beginning on 'neutral ground' allowing the Faith to be brought in as verifying and clarifying what the sciences reveal.

Having said all of this, I say again that my experiences yesterday were most inspiring and enjoyable.

On the other hand, I reference this article from Taki's Magazine on "hipster porn", which should be a concern to all parents today, and a warning to the more intellectually advanced young people who might not have thought this particular issue through.

And I conclude this post with a reference to the Mystagogy blog (H/T to Sophocles Frangakis blog a..sinner)and a short piece on Elder Paisios and the Pornographer.


Matthew M said...

Very good posting. You weren't stoned or tarred and feathered by the students so you must have presented the "truth" of Christ & his church in a more than adequate manner.
You are not really 96 are you, you old kidder?

The Byzantine Rambler said...

Dear Curmudgeon Matthew, You old sod:

Thank you for your compliments. No, no tar, feathers, nor splinters from being ridden out on a rail.

As to my age, would I kid you?