Monthly Archives: October 2021

Pregnancy is Not Sexual

How are moral commands given?

In my effort to characterize how God’s moral commands are given and received, I start by describing ways we might block ourselves from hearing divine commands. Perhaps, knowing how we suppress them will show what we are suppressing.

These ways of deafening ourselves to divine commands are commonly called “rationalizations.” Not all rationalizations are conscious. Indeed, becoming aware of a rationalization may facilitate hearing the divine moral command. For often the rationalizations expose themselves as poor reasoning once they become explicit.

In my previous post, I sketched out a far-fetched rationalization for abortion. See “Abortion Stops a Coitus.” The foundation for this far-fetched rationalization is a very popular belief which to many sounds like common sense. The foundational belief is the moral neutrality of sexuality. I regard the moral neutrality of sexuality as the major rationalization deafening the opinion forming elites to divine moral commands for sexuality. If pregnancy is morally neutral, abortion can be justifed on utilitarian grounds.

I continue to criticize the moral neutrality of sexuality by showing how it supports another far-fetched rationalization for abortion. I expose it as leading implicitly to an absurd extension of the sexual. The gist of the rationalization is that pregnancy is a sexual matter and because sexual matters are morally neutral so is pregnancy

How could the condition of pregnancy be regarded as sexual? One way is the far-fetched rationale I gave in my previous post is that pregnancy is still sexual because it began with sexual intercourse. Another way is to extend the imprecise, but legitimate and important, notion of sexual privacy to pregnancy.

The notion of sexual privacy needs much examination and clarification. But I think that any analysis of sexual privacy will admit that there is such a thing and that whatever it exactly may be the first premise of the syllogism below is true. However, such an analysis will expose, I believe, that only a desire to justify abortion by making pregnancy morally neutral leads to the second premise.

What is sexually private to a woman is something with which a woman may treat according to her will.
Her pregnancy is something sexually private to a woman.
Hence, her pregnancy is something with which a woman may treat according to her will.

Abortion Terminates a Coitus; Not a Human Life. What??

Consider a defense of abortion which I have never heard anyone present. I present it to show the baneful distortions in thinking stemming from accepting the moral neutrality of sexuality.

Abortion is categorically prohibited even for pregnancies resulting from incest or rape. Abortions are direct intentional stopping a human life. It is a hard teaching. Much grievous individual and social pain is eliminable by some abortions.

Why do so many decent people ignore the fact that abortion is an intentional direct taking of a human life? Many of my fellow Catholics simply will not look at abortion as murder. They look only at the problems to be solved by termination of a pregnancy. Anecdotal evidence suggests that most of these decent people also accept the moral neutrality of sexuality. What I want to show is that looking at pregnancy in a certain way along with accepting the moral neutrality of sexuality provides a moral defense of abortion. If people unconsciously look at pregnancy in this certain way to justify abortion, then we have an explanation of why decent people vigorously defend abortion.

What is this special way of looking at pregnancy? It is looking at pregnancy as a continuation of coitus. Of course, this is far fetched but not totally incoherent. When exactly does coitus end? Upon ejaculation the male might be pretty well finished. But coitus is a mutual act and it is not clear that the woman’s part is over once the man withdraws. It is possible to consider fertilization as a continuation of a single mutual action of ovulation and ejaculation. I do not want to continue with details because this is all fuzzy thinking. The point I want to make is that there is a line of loose unconscious thinking which connects pregnancy primarily with sexuality for moral purposes. Indeed the exception some ardent pro-lifers grant to allow abortions for pregnancy starting from an incestual coitus or rape suggests that they may be identifying these pregnancies as parts of impermissible sex acts.

If pregnancy, for moral purposes, is looked at primarily as a condition connected with the coitus initiating it, then continuation or termination of the pregnancy falls under sexual morality. In the very widely held stance of moral neutrality of sexuality, viz., there are no categorical prohibitions of any sexual act, then abortion is open to being justified by references to its consequences.

An ultra sound is a fact check showing that pregnancy is no longer a matter of sexual morality.

The Sound of Divine Commands

What is it like to receive a divine moral command? What is it like to hear a moral command from God?
Answer: The sounds of a divine command are the thoughts and sentiments of accepting a categorical imperative.

The answer may appear an attempt to de-mythologize outlooks understanding moral commands as commands from God. We shall see, though, that including thoughts and sentiments in the authoritative moral outlook includes spirits, if not myths, in the outlook.

What are the thoughts and sentiments of accepting a categorical imperative?

Answer: The thoughts and sentiments of accepting a categorical imperative are the thoughts and sentiments of making a moral judgment with the thoughts and sentiments of authoritative morality. (To be developed in a subsequent post.)

Hence, the sounds of a divine command are the thoughts and sentiments of making a moral judgment with the thoughts and sentiments of authoritative morality.

No new moral rules are added to authoritative moral thinking by interpreting morality as based on divine commands. However, fears and hopes of the authoritative moral outlook need to be vindicated by interpreting the moral authority as divine. Hence, even if morality does not change by interpreting it as based on divine commands, moral theology changes to vindicate the fears and hopes essentially connected with morality.

Fear of violating a moral law, hope that one can obey the moral laws and that somehow it is better that the moral laws be obeyed are essential to moral thinking.

If the moral authority is merely aware of its commands being violated and obeyed, then morality does not matter. The authoritative moral outlook can degenerate into a version of moral nihilism that obedience to moral laws does not matter. Or worse, some group of humans may assume themselves to be the moral authority and try to be all-knowing about violations and authorized to make immoral actions have unpleasant consequences. Morality will matter under these tyrants. But we don’t want morality to matter to some human authorities.

Here I am assuming that the choices for interpreting the moral authority are right reason or a direct immanent activity of the Transcendent – God acting in nature. Moral theology needs to develop notions of this immanent activity of the Transcendent to accommodate the essential sentiments of moral thought.

Consider interpreting the moral authority as right reason. Right reason is the idealized notion of human reason working invariably to get the correct answers about facts and values. The thoughts and sentiments of accepting a categorical imperative as based on right reason is, then, hearing the command of the moral authority. But right reason itself is a lifeless abstraction. It is very difficult to interpret the transparency of our moral actions to reason. I accept the reality of collective human thinking. However, I think that some of our violations of moral laws do not get into collective consciousness. We can still commit secret sins. If right reason is real at all, it is real as a subset of collective consciousness. It is even more difficult to think of right reason as instrumental in having consequences for our violations and good conduct.

So, the moral authority needs to have contact with human reason both in individuals and the collective consciousnesses. But it also needs to be separate from human consciousness and perhaps, through moral commands, be able to have influence on what makes for human harm and good. I think we could think of it as spiritual.

Divine Commands vs. Divine Commanding

In various posts, I have sketched out the structure of morality based on the commands of an authority. In sketching out the structure of authoritarian morality, I have made a strong case that people who accept retributive punishment presuppose authoritarian morality. In other posts, I have sketched out a metaphysical structure of a Transcendent on which everything, including morality, depends for existence. I have, now, the conceptual tools for constructing a conceptual scheme in which the fundamentals of morality are commands of God, with God represented by the Transcendent.

Before working out details of this conceptual structure, I need to specify what actually occurs to make the construction correct.

The structure of authoritarian morality is not authoritarian morality. The structure characterizes the moral reality. The moral reality is the commanding by the moral commander and the responding of those to whom the commands are given. This is a temporal process. So, clearly, it is immanent. Of course, this process depends upon the Transcendent for its existence and character.

But what is the commanding and hearing of commands?

If morality really is based on divine commanding, then moral experience should reveal that activity. The structure of authoritarian morality should then characterize the morality arising from God being a partner in maintenance and development of morality. I am not privy to special moral experiences. There is nothing available to me that others do not also experience in their discussions and personal thinking about right and wrong, good and evil. So, what I say about the commanding of the divine moral commander is an interpretation of what people experience in moral thought and sentiment.

I propose that a sense or thought that we are correct in moral thought or discussion be interpreted as receiving a divine command. There are various descriptions of this sense of being correct about morality. Some have called it what we receive from a moral sense others characterize it as what they get from their moral intuitions, some call it what proper reason recognizes, others characterize it as what their conscience tells them and presently many express this by claiming it is a moral issue.

I use a phrase from Kant.

Stages in our feeling infused thinking at which we can declare a categorical imperative are stages at which we have a sense of receiving a divine command. These categorical imperatives are thoughts of the form “That is right,” “That is wrong,” “That is good,” and “That is bad.” The imperatives about good and bad imply imperatives about right and wrong because a categorical imperative judgment that something is good implies that a categorical imperative that one ought never inhibit it. A categorical imperative judgment that something is bad implies a categorical imperative judgment that one ought never promote it.

To repeat: I am interpreting taking a moral judgment as final is taking it as being divinely commanded. Of course, this does not mean that people consciously interpret their conclusive moral judgments as divinely commanded.

I must emphasize that we are not incorrigible recognizers of divine commands. Divine commands are incorrigible. God cannot err on what ought to be done or propose as good something which is not good. But we can make a mistake about whether God has actually commanded an act or proposed something as good. This is what should be expected if one holds that morality is objective. The prospect of a discrepancy between the objective and the subjective arises when there are thinking feeling subjects trying to be accurate about what is given. Divine commands are the given of morality.