Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Brian Sewell (4); the "gay scene" in the frame

The extract from Brian Sewell's autobiography published in the London Evening Standard (here), and on which I have already commented (Catholicism in the frame, Abandoning moral constraint and Pleasures of the flesh), also puts the "gay scene" in the frame for some questioning. Let me present this by responding to the following comment made on one of the earlier posts in this series:
The story of Brian Sewell's sexual exploits after he gave up the practice of religion is indeed depressing. He glories in the emptiness of as many as five casual partners in a single evening. Yet, there is too a question for Catholics. Now that we know that some people can only truthfully have sexual relationships with the same sex, if the proper standards of faithfulness and constancy apply, should we really deny them the sort of permanent, creative, relationship of, say, Benjamin Brittan and Peter Pears? The ugliness of Sewell's story is the grimness of promiscuity, not of the homosexuality with which he was born.
Is it possible, as this comment suggests, to entirely separate the aspect of promiscuity in Brian Sewell's account from the homosexual nature of his acts, thereby taking the "gay community" out of the frame?

"Now that we know that some people can only truthfully have sexual relationships with the same sex..." There is an implicit assumption here that would apply to heterosexual activity just as much as to homosexual activity. That assumption might be stated something like "as I am so inclined, so I have to act"; or, as the assumption that a physical sexual activity is a necessary and essential part of a person's life. It is important to ask whether or not this is really the case. Is sexual activity, of any type, really as necessary a condition for human well being as we are led to believe? If one were to agree (and I don't happen to) that "some people can only truthfully have sexual relationships with the same sex" the option of not having sexual relationships at all is still an option, and an option that respects entirely the sense of the inclination involved. It is possible to truthfully not have sexual relations.

If we challenge the assumption - that sexual inclination has to be converted into sexual activity, a principle that applies equally to heterosexual as to homosexual activity - then a clear step is seen to exist between the inclination towards same-sex behaviour and the actual undertaking of that behaviour. This leads us to recognise that there is an ethical step that is taken in moving from inclination to activity. This does apply to heterosexual activity as well, but, in our present context, it recognises the choice that is taken to engage in homosexual activity subsequent to an experience of inclination. In not distinguishing clearly between how we consider inclination and how we consider activity, the point of view represented by my commenter tries to take the "gay scene" out of the frame being set by the London Evening Standard extract. The ethical step in this context - or, to use the language of one of my earlier posts in this series, the breaking through of a moral restraint - is there for both heterosexual and homosexual behaviours. But it has a certain additionality in the case of homosexual behaviour because it involves stepping over the moral restraint represented by the physiological disposition of the male body towards the female body and vice versa. The scenario of the gay couple who are in a faithful relationship does not have the breach of the moral constraint with regard to promiscuity that characterises Brian Sewell's story; but it retains this latter element of overcoming a moral constraint.

So in what respects does the London Evening Standard extract put the "gay scene" within the frame for questioning? At a simple level, those who are in leadership in the gay community need to tell us honestly whether or not it is a community characterised by the promiscuity that Brian Sewell's story portrays, and I say that recognising that promiscuity is going to be a feature in opposite sex relations too. At a deeper level, the implications of the turning away from moral constraints that previously held in society - and this is something with regard homosexual acts that is promoted by the gay community - presents a question to be answered. Is this really in the interests of the common good of society as a whole, particularly when the removing of "internal barriers" is one of the themes in understanding the behaviour of sex offenders? (This is not to suggest that gay people are any more likely to be offenders than others, but only to suggest that a culture that maintains moral constraints will better discourage offending by those likely to offend.) The discussion in these series of posts also challenges the gay community to be willing to talk in the language of behaviours, which represent ethical choices, rather than using the language of "orientation" to reduce the element of ethical choice involved. Along with this is the question of external moral constraints to behaviour such as those that might be provided by religious belief; or the question of the part that can be played by religions in being a moral reference point that calls wider society to a purification of its reason (cf Pope Benedict XVI speaking in Westminster Hall).

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