Sunday, March 04, 2007

Religion and sex

Glendale Community College philosophy professor Victor Reppert posted at his blog, Dangerous Idea, about whether there is a secular argument against homosexuality. He concluded that there doesn't seem to be a plausible case (at least, not based merely on evolution), which prompted this comment from ex-Jehovah's Witness Derek Barefoot:
I agree with you partly. However, people who defend homosexuality from a naturalist perspective almost without exception also see nothing perverse about transsexulaity. That one is baffling. It is one thing to dislike some feature of one's body that falls short of a societal ideal. A person with an unusual nose may want a usual one. A shorter than average person may understandably wish they were taller. But for someone to feel that he or she has literally been "born into the wrong body," as transsexuals often put it, is naturalistically unfathomable. Perhaps a wasp has by mistake been born into the body of a mouse. Perhaps the tomato plant yearns in some inarticulate vegetative fashion to be an oak. Transexuality is literally a rebellion against nature, yet somehow it is included (commonly) with homosexuality. So perhaps the argument that homosexuality is just an expression of nature is called into question by the related phenomenon of transsexuality.
The problem with this response is that Barefoot is making erroneous assumptions about sex in nature. There are not always well-defined boundaries between male and female. I responded in the comments:
I think that Darek Barefoot's analogies of tomato/oak and wasp/mouse are inapt--sexual differences within a species are commonly smaller than genetic and morphological differences across species. There are human individuals whose genetic makeup puts them into categories which are outside of or span the normal male/female boundaries. For example, those with XXY chromosomes may visibly appear to be male or female, and there are those who have both male and female genitalia. Further, there is far more variety to the sexes than mere duality within the animal kingdom. I recommend Olivia Judson's book, Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation for an entertaining look at some of that variety.

Transsexuality, like homosexuality, is evidence against an oversimplified view of sex in nature, not against naturalism itself.
And I followed that up with another comment:
I was looking for but unable to find a set of online forum postings I came across a year or two ago from an intersexed individual who was a Christian, and honestly had no idea what was appropriate dating for her. I believe the church she was involved with took the position that she was not permitted to date or have sex with anyone. It seems to me that most Christians have a real problem with the existence of such individuals, and have a very poor record of inhumane response to them.

I did find this post from an individual raising the question of how religious views can make sense of such individuals. It's an excellent and interesting question. Here's a brief quote from that post (rest of this comment is quoted from it):

The english language has no gender terms we can use for intersex people, instead why try to force them into either female or male which may not be appropriate.

Here is a run down of only some intersex conditions:

Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH)
XX (female) fetus ovaries produce a masculising hormone that results in ambigious external genitals . normally the ovaries do not produce hormones as the female is the default sex, none are needed to create a female fetus. the addition of the masculising hormone therefor creates a female with some male charactistics

Testosterone Biosynthetic Defects
an XY(male) fetus does not produce testosterone, therefor,as female is the `default setting` it is born with full female parts, or parts rudimentary malformed female parts, despite being genetically male.

Androgen sensivity syndrome
Testes in the abdomen, external female parts.
they also grow brests but do not have cycles (note: im trying to avoid using catch words here, as im not sure what is allowed and what isnt!)
Klinefelter Syndrome
Genically 47 chromosomes XXY and classed as men. They are males with a female chromosome attatched, small male parts, my develop female characteristics in teenage years.

Turner Syndrome
45 chromosomes, XO. Turner women have female external parts but illformed ovaries and no estrogen.

can be EXACTLY one ovary, one teste a small penis AND a female genitalia. Their genetic makeup can be a mosaic of XY and XX genes, they truly are not male or female, but both.

Roughly one in a thousand births is an intersex child. so it isnt that rare.

The issue this presents to religion is that here we have a group of people who are neither here nor there and will grow up with issues to do with their sexual aurientation. What is the view of religions on say an XXY male, who looks mostly male but wishes to date other men? What is the view on a XY female who feels she is a lesbian (after all she is genitcally male) These are issues many people with intersex come up agaisnt. often their parents assign them a gender at birth and corrective surgery is given to `make` them into a gender (usually female) This quite often results in the girl growing up feeling male and later on reqesting a sex change.

Its a tricky issue. Many Intersex people wish they had not been assigned a gender and feel their body is their right and they should have been left to choose a gender when they were older.

But anyway, To me,(I am theist, not religious and very firmly rooted in science) it shows how our gentically evolved bodies can and do go wrong, for a religious person I think it presents an issue worth thinking about. I dont know of any biblical reference to intersex, nor what the christian take is on people who are not male or female but are a bit of this a bit of that, netiehr here nor there or exactly half of each gender. What is their take on how these people should "morally" behave?
Heres what I think it boils down to.

1 God doesnt exist
2 God exists but is fallable and makes mistakes
3 god exists and does not make mistakes, therefor, he wishes intersex conditions to exist , but condemns them to hell if they choose the wrong aurientation later in life to what they look like externally
4. He wishes intersex to exist, either because he has no issues with gender and sexuality .

....feel free to add more...
There are some further comments at Victor's blog.


Star said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

"Animals do it" isn't a real good argument.

My dog likes to eat cat turds.

Sharks practice intrauterine cannibalism.

Monkeys like to fling poo.

Rats eat their babies.

Do we really want to look to the animal kingdom to guide what is normal about human behavior? There is more that differentiates us besides walking upright and having opposing thumbs.

Einzige said...

Pardon me, but where in the above post is the argument that "animals do it", exactly?