On the Meaning of Sex 2(c): Some Quick-Hitters

[This is part of a series on J. Budziszewski’s On the Meaning of SexRead my Introduction here.]

(Did you know that Westerners are getting into Eastern religion now? Crazy times, man, crazy times.)

Back to Budziszewski. In my last post on On the Meaning of Sex, I tried to outline the major argument of Chapter 2, which is that human sexuality is designed for two equally important ends, procreation and bonding, and that the “natural laws” of sex show that those ends are inseparable from each other. I tried to make the case that the only way Budziszewski links those ends, the only way he can argue that they’re inseparable, is by subordinating bonding to procreation—by arguing, in other words, that procreation is the sole purpose of human sexuality. And I pointed out that in doing that, Budziszewski leaves unexplored the full meaning of human sexual bonding.

I want to use this post to play cleanup, knock out some softballs that Budziszewski lobbed over the heart of the plate in Chapter 2. I’m not going to hog all the at-bats, though—most of this stuff has been covered before by people smarter than me, so I’ll do a lot of linking below.

Okay. Batter up.

p. 20: Budziszewski uses (yes, he really does!) an abstinence-ed classic: “Sex is like applying adhesive tape; promiscuity is like ripping the tape off again. If you rip it off, rip it off, rip it off, eventually the tape can’t stick anymore.”

Let him have it, Libby Anne.

p. 28-9: Budziszewski uses Robert George’s “your spouse is a stomach” argument.

You’re up, Rob Tisinai.

p. 24: Budziszewski brings out the food analogy. He writes, “The purpose of eating is to take in nutrition… To prolong the pleasure of their feasts [certain ancient Romans] purged between courses. I hope it is not difficult to recognize that such behavior is disordered.”

I’ve got this one, guys!

p. 18: As a sign of the craziness of our postmodern moral world, Budziszewski notes that “In Hollywood, of all places, it has become fashionable to talk up Buddhism.”

Ahh, yes. Kids today.


(Om. Remember me?)

-Then there’s this beauty on page 31: Writing about couples who choose not to have kids, Budziszewski says:

By seeking the unity but deliberately refusing the gift of children, we still get a kind of unity, but it goes bad. Because it turns inward, it ferments, turns sour, and begins to stink. The decisive factor is not sterility, which is nobody’s fault, but deliberate rejection of fertility. If we willfully refuse the procreative meaning of union, then union itself is stunted. We merely change from a pair of selfish MEs to a single selfish US.

Where to start? Maybe with the inanity of characterizing as “selfish” a lifetime commitment to another person for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health.

I mean, “a single selfish US”? What does that even mean?

And if we’re changing the meaning of selfishness all willy-nilly (or all willie-nelson, as we say in my family) to include dedicating your life to someone else, what’s to stop us from saying that having kids is selfish? Aren’t even really big families living for “a single selfish us”? (I don’t think so, obviously—just trying to get a handle on Budziszewski’s thinking here.)

Or should I start with Budziszewski’s obliviousness to the ways he insults infertile couples? He’s just finished writing that by waking us up and forcing us to change their diapers, children “knock us out of our selfish habits and force us to live sacrificially for others,” and he says that this changes us “in a way we desperately need to be changed.” Without this change, he writes, our love becomes putrid, stinking and rotten. Then he thinks he can make that okay by saying, “Umm, hey, infertile couples, I didn’t mean you. Your stinking ferment is nobody’s fault.”

The “natural law” guys do this all the time, by the way. It’s like when Robert George compared infertile couples to a baseball team that always loses, and then acted shocked that anyone might take offense to that. Or when the John Jay Institute referred to infertile marriages as a “profitless company.”

You know what? I don’t think I have to write anymore about that paragraph. Its problems are obvious to anyone who wants to see them.

But you see what I mean with the broken staircase analogy? And this is just a fraction of the problems I have with this chapter. Budziszewski makes mistakes within mistakes; barely a sentence goes by without some sort of faulty assumption, ugly insinuation, or outright error. Looking around at the wreckage of the argument Budziszewski builds in Chapter 2, I have to say that it’s a tribute to his rhetorical powers that he’s able to convince anyone with this book. And he has convinced people, even smart people that I know personally. It’s amazing the way he’s painted over all of his argument’s flaws, the way he creates an illusion of logic and reason.

There is one more point in Chapter 2 that needs to be challenged in depth. On page 28, Budziszewski argues that unitive intimacy—good sex—is about mutual gift of self. That’s fine. Then he argues that “one condition that makes mutual gift of selves possible is that the two selves have something to give—that they complement each other. That is possible because there is something missing in the man, which he finds in the woman, and something missing in the woman, which she finds in the man.”

Budziszewski refuses to the consider the possibility that a man might find the “something” he’s missing in another man, or that woman might find her missing “something” in another woman. But he makes a longer argument on this point in Chapter 3, so I’ll hold my critique on it until next week.

4 thoughts on “On the Meaning of Sex 2(c): Some Quick-Hitters

  1. Pingback: “The Meaning of Sex” (Letters to the Catholic Right)Queering the Church | Queering the Church

  2. Pingback: “The Meaning of Sex” Ch 2 (LTCR): Reality Check.Queering the Church | Queering the Church

  3. Pingback: “The Meaning of Sex Ch 3″ (LTCR) – Binary Opposites, or Diversity?Queering the Church | Queering the Church

  4. Pingback: The Meaning of Sex (5)Queering the Church | Queering the Church

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