A Catholic would argue by using premises based on her faith, but in this multicultural world, why would a non-Catholic believe her? Can a Catholic argue using secular reasons, e.g. in arguing against abortion, she discusses what makes a fetus human without mentioning any Catholic belief?
Perhaps it could be said that a fetus is a potential human and must be valued as a human, but that argument would crumble against the analogy of an acorn and oak tree. The acorn is a potential oak tree, but cannot be valued in the same way as an oak tree. Tossing an acorn away is not the same as cutting down a mature oak tree that has been alive for decades.
Rather, if this is the chosen approach, the Catholic must argue that the fetus is human, not just a potential human, and this premise is based on Catholic belief. Obviously, to accept this premise, the whole Catholic philosophy must be accepted, or else the other must accept a philosophy/religion which believes this. In an ideal world, everybody espouses our view, but this is impossible. Where do we go from here?
In a multicultural world, for each culture to continue existing, there has to be an objective standard for judging each culture (or way of life/philosophy/religion, etc). The practical approach is this: Each culture must allow other cultures to exist with it. Thus, a person who believes that he must regularly sacrifice kidnapped infants to improve his well-being cannot be allowed in a multicultural world because it will not allow other cultures which do not share this belief to exist with it.
At first glance, it seems as if this approach is based on the recognition of the intrinsic value of each culture for we aim to allow each to exist. However, if a certain culture is not allowed because it prevents others from existing together with it, then there is no intrinsic value attached to all cultures.
Perhaps what we value is tolerance for all cultures? Again, when we think about it, this is not the case. We will only tolerate cultures which are tolerant, but if we tolerate intolerant cultures, e.g. those which aim to destroy others, then the whole system will destroy itself from the inside.
Perhaps we value the individual’s right to live according to her ideals/beliefs? This leads us back to where we were. An individual might believe that the ideal way of living is to use other people for her advantage, but this cannot be allowed.
Perhaps we value the tolerance of tolerant cultures or multiculturalism? I think this approach is a way of getting out of the argument without having to think about it. If we look at our history, multiculturalism was not actively pursued; rather our valuing of it today is a pragmatic way of preventing tensions in an already multicultural society. For example, countries which allowed immigrants to come in did not do so specifically so there would arise a multicultural society, rather this was allowed to increase the population of an emerging nation, to save immigrants from injustices in their native country, etc.
- The Intrinsic Value of All Human Beings
So what do we value? What is the objective standard? I think this is it: the intrinsic value of all human beings. We must give intrinsic value to ourselves hence we do not waste our lives by abusing substances like dangerous drugs which allow us to waste away. We must give intrinsic value to others hence my happiness must not cancel out your happiness.
It is easy to think that giving intrinsic value to others means tolerance, e.g. we share the same space so we must tolerate each other to avoid conflict, but it should be more than that. I cannot say that I intrinsically value you if I leave you alone to do whatever you wish as long as it does not transgress the rights of other people. If I intrinsically value you, I must help you live in such a way that enables you to intrinsically value yourself and others. Thus, I cannot say that you can go ahead and take drugs until you die because that means you are not valuing yourself. I also cannot say that I must allow you to wander along dangerous cliffs, to commit suicide, to waste your life, etc. simply because you wish to.
At this point we must clarify something: ‘I must not do something’ is not equivalent to ‘I must do something.’ The statement ‘I must not allow my neighbor to commit suicide’ is not the same as ‘I must do everything to prevent my neighbor from ever committing suicide.’ Since secular laws help to protect the privacy of individuals (and this is good for obvious reasons), my neighbor may be planning to commit suicide in the privacy of his home without my knowledge. If I am not aware of this and if there is no reason for me to think he might do this, then I am not obliged to regularly check on him to make sure that he never commits suicide.
Given this, intrinsically valuing others does not necessarily mean invading their privacy to prevent them from doing what will lead to their harm; but if it is obvious to me that what they are currently doing will lead to their harm, then I am morally obliged to make them stop. While legally speaking I do not have to do anything unless their actions harm others who are not willing to be harmed, most people will consider it a negative mark on my character if I do not at least try to stop someone who is clearly harming or about to harm himself.
The more we understand the intrinsic value of all human beings, the more intimate our rules become, or the more they affect our personal lives. Certain rules are in effect because they prevent us from sliding down that slippery slope of not intrinsically valuing others. To give an analogy, we do not allow people to freely buy drugs even if they claim to not be addicted to it and simply use it for pleasure because we understand that it is very easy for them to slide down that slope to addiction.
Not allowing people access to drugs and steep cliffs, and the chance to commit suicide and waste their life focuses on our value of their lives, but what about situations when people use other people with each other’s consent? There are situations where people use each other like when a store owner seeks customers to gain more profit and the customer buys from that store because the wares are cheap; but this does not necessarily mean the store owner and customer do not give each other intrinsic worth. A store owner must encourage customers to buy in his shop, but he must not rudely dismiss them if they do not end up buying anything. Further, if the non-customer meets an accident outside of the shop, the store owner must not think the former does not deserve to be helped because he is a non-customer. Obviously, this kind of shop owner exists in the world and the laws of most countries allow such a person to exist, but morally speaking this man is not admirable. He is the same as the man who does not try to prevent someone from committing suicide. To describe such people, let us say they are not ‘good.’
With this reasoning in mind, how do we treat two people who willingly use each other for sexual pleasure? Legally speaking, we can allow the bad store owner and the uncaring neighbor to exist because secular laws only aim to protect the rights of all citizens. Nevertheless, the actions of the bad store owner and uncaring neighbor are morally deplorable. In other words, generally we would say that such people are not ‘good’ precisely because they do not recognize the intrinsic worth of human life.
- The Standards for Sexual Relationships
When it comes to sexual relationships, we also say that those who use other people for sex are not ‘good,’ but the case becomes different if the individuals involved accept the terms of their relationship; i.e. if it is clear that the relationship is only for sex, and the individuals agree, then most people say there is nothing wrong with that arrangement. If the partners are dishonorable, e.g. if they say the relationship is monogamous but seek other partners, only then are they not ‘good.’
First, we must tackle the problem of something being acceptable because there is consent. This is a very weak argument. A drug addict consents to the use of drugs, but that does not make it good. If I seriously ask my friend to use me or hurt me in any way, he will wonder if I have lost my mind. Consent does not necessarily make things right.
If a non-Catholic argument cannot point out that sex outside of marriage is not ‘good,’ how do we deal with this? I think what we can say is this: If we do not allow people to buy drugs because they can easily become addicted, then we must not allow people to be part of sexual relationships outside of marriage because such relationships can easily allow partners to value each other only for sexual pleasure.
At this point, I can picture an imaginary opponent to roll her eyes. She will say, ‘Many couples do not use each other simply for sex!’ I say to her, ‘I agree’ but that is not my point. What I am saying here is this: Non-permanent sexual relationships (either short-term or long-term) and contraception make it easy for couples to slide down that slippery slope of valuing each other only for sexual pleasure.
If my imaginary opponent screams ‘Fallacious! Slippery slope!’ my reply is this: Exactly! It is a slippery slope down to the bottom, and it takes only one slip.
A. Against Contraceptives and Divorce
Again, my imaginary opponent rolls her eyes and says, ‘Some married couples also use each other for sex,’ and I say to that, ‘Yes, I agree; BUT marriage, when understood in a way which does not contradict the intrinsic value of all human beings, minimizes the chance of slipping down this slope.’ To expound, when marriage is understood to be for the creation and protection of families, i.e. a man and a woman come together to take care of each other for life, and give birth to children and take care of them, the chance of the couple slipping down the slope of using each other for sex is minimized.
Couples who understand that their bond is for life will do whatever it takes to make their marriage work. Contrast this with couples who consider divorce as an option. I am not saying that those who agree with divorce will necessarily easily give up when relationship problems come their way, rather they will not do whatever it takes to make their marriage work if divorce is an option.
Further, when divorce is not allowed and the consequences of this is understood then engaged couples will be serious in discerning whether they ought to get married to each other or not. My imaginary opponent may be quick to mention that even in societies which disallow or discourage divorce, couples can still carelessly jump into marriage. If so, then we must consider whether they truly understood what it means to not be allowed to divorce.
Marrying carelessly is like deliberately or inadvertently drinking poison. A person who drinks poison even if the bottle is clearly labeled as poison or a potential poison is an idiot. A person who inadvertently drinks poison but would not do so if he knew it was poison should not be considered an idiot. Nevertheless, he has already drunk the poison and this will result in irreversible consequences which he must live with for the rest of his life.
If marriage is important, then educators must minimize the possibility of people deliberately or inadvertently drinking poison.
Regarding fornication, we cannot give a non-Catholic argument against it except to say that those who understand that they are in a temporary relationship will likely also not do whatever it takes to make their relationship work if problems come their way. The situation becomes different if an unmarried couple considers their relationship to be permanent and mean it.
Those who do not use contraceptives will minimize the chance of using each other for sexual pleasure because they understand that the sexual act has the consequence of children. What about natural family planning (NFP) which allows couples to have sex without always resulting to children? A correct understanding of marriage accepts the fact that the sexual act is one way couples show their love for each other, but at the same time they are required to take care of their children. They must not give birth to a lot of children if they cannot take care of them. NFP allows couples to achieve both the regular expression of their love through the sexual act and to provide sufficient care for their children. Further, NFP still requires them to control their sexual urges during the times when they are fertile and cannot afford another child.
B. Against Gay Marriage/Sexual Relationships
What about gay marriage? This is another slippery slope. A gay relationship is necessarily sterile which makes it easy for couples to use each other for sex.
If my imaginary opponent says that heterosexual couples who discover that they are sterile can also easily use each other for sex, my reply is, generally speaking, when people realize they are sterile they do not rejoice and say, ‘Yay! We can save on contraceptives.’
My imaginary opponent further says, ‘What if gay couples adopt rules stating that they must only have sex as a means of expressing their love for each other and never when they feel more lust than love?’ Admittedly, this can be accepted, but it is very difficult to determine whether they do indeed only come together because of love and never when lust is the primary motivation. While married couples who practice NFP can also have sex because they feel lust more strongly than love, my point here is when speaking about a single specific time a couple decides to have sex, it is very difficult to determine whether lust or love is the primary motivation for sex.
To give an analogy, during one specific lunch period at a hamburger joint, it is very difficult to know if a person is motivated more by hunger or more by his desire for a hamburger. It is very difficult to analyze each specific situation, hence we look at the general pattern. A person who is motivated by a desire for hamburgers will usually eat this food even if he is not hungry. Likewise, a person who is motivated by lust will find it difficult to control his desire for sex during the times when the couple should not have sex.
My imaginary opponent, perhaps in trying to be humorous, considers the possibility of a chaste gay marriage or relationship. This will be more like a friendship. Perhaps the marriage was entered into for practical purposes to ensure that partners are given certain legal rights which are usually reserved only for family members. I think this is acceptable; but if states are going to allow this, then the partnership must not be labeled ‘marriage’ just to avoid confusion.
C. Against Abortion
Finally, what about abortion? If we consider the fetus as non-human, the slippery slope is the same as contraception. Couples can easily value each other for sex because if ever the contraceptive fails, abortion is still possible.
D. Against Happiness as a Reason for Allowing Things
My imaginary opponent throws in a common counter-argument against all I have said: ‘What about happiness?’
What about it? Happiness is not an acceptable reason for allowing things. As we have mentioned above, it may be necessary for my happiness to sacrifice kidnapped babies, but I cannot be allowed to do this.
Again, these are all ‘slippery slope’ arguments. It is possible for gay couples or heterosexual couples who use contraceptives or have had an abortion done to value each other intrinsically and to never use each other simply to satisfy their lust. It is possible for couples to give a very high value to marriage even if divorce is an option in their country or even if they were previously divorced. But, the point is this: They are all walking along a narrow, steep and very slippery slope. One false step will make them plunge into the possibility of allowing themselves and the other to not be valued intrinsically.
They may say, ‘We are careful!’ Should we believe them? If so, then we must be consistent and believe drug users who say, ‘I’m careful! I don’t allow myself to become addicted.’ We must also believe highway daredevils who say ‘I’m careful! I won’t get into an accident and hurt myself and others.’
Should we say that the harm caused by drugs and by a highway accident are not the same as the harm caused by people using each other to satisfy selfish desires? I cannot accept this. The acceptance of the intrinsic value of all human beings tells us that stealing a penny is wrong even if the loss of this small amount will not affect the owner. If you steal someone’s penny, you do not give intrinsic value to that person by not respecting what is rightfully his. Please do not think that this seemingly insignificant act has no consequences. If you do not intrinsically value one person, then you deny that all human beings have intrinsic value.
Now I must imagine my imaginary opponent to say, ‘If we must disallow abortion, contraceptives, gay marriage and divorce because they can easily allow couples to use each other for selfish purposes, then should we not also put up ways to minimize the possibility of shop owners valuing others simply as customers, and neighbors from not caring about whether their neighbors commit suicide, etc.?’
We already have means to minimize these possibilities, and my imaginary opponent will be happy to know that they are secular or not based on any religious belief. They are not even based on a specific moral code except for the intrinsic value of all human beings. For the bad shop owner, etiquette minimizes the slippery slope of his rudely dismissing people who end up not buying anything. It also minimizes the possibility of people devaluing others. We consider it rude to interrupt people, to mess up their private space, to embarrass them, etc. because such acts say that the other is unimportant.
For the uncaring neighbor, a sense of humanity minimizes the slippery slope of people refusing to care for others. As I have mentioned, a person who does not care to stop another person from committing suicide is generally considered to be not ‘good.’ We have a sense that we should help other people even if we do not have a personal relationship with them.
Etiquette and a sense of humanity do not necessarily prevent people from not giving intrinsic value to all human beings, but the point is that they minimize this possibility. Any situation which can easily slide into danger must be governed by rules which must not be easily changed or dismissed according to an individual’s whim. For example, we must not allow etiquette to be casually dismissed such that we can be polite to people we like but impolite to those we dislike. Whether this happens frequently or infrequently is irrelevant because we are talking about norms or ‘what should be the case.’ It should be the case that etiquette remains firmly in place because otherwise we would need to exist in a society where people can easily choose to be rude and get away with it. The same may be said about a sense of humanity because otherwise we would need to exist in a world where people can easily choose to not care that their neighbor is trying to commit suicide or an ethnic group is being exterminated and get away with it. Lastly, the same must be said about sexual mores because otherwise we would need to live in a society where people can easily choose to value each other according to selfish motives and get away with it.
Oh, wait! We already do live in these worlds. The world today is a place where people can easily choose to be rude, to not care and to use others according to selfish motives, and they can get away with it. We must find a way to turn things around, but that discussion is for another time.
My imaginary opponent may give one last objection. She may say, ‘But I am against moralism, that judgmental attitude towards people who do not follow the so-called correct code of conduct.’
My answer is this: I am against moralism too, but the acceptance of a code of conduct does not necessarily mean having a judgmental attitude, i.e. one can accept a code of conduct without being too harsh against people who break it.
I cannot discuss how to avoid moralism here, but my point remains: a code of conduct, even if strict, is not necessarily accompanied by moralism or a judgmental attitude. If you do not believe me, consider the Catholic attitude. The standards are high, but it is accepted as a matter of fact that people will always fall short of these standards. Further, Catholics are not encouraged to become judgmental as a means of controlling those who currently reject the standards or find it difficult to maintain them; rather, it is understood that individuals are mainly responsible for their actions. Their friends only give them help if they need it, but if an individual does not help himself, then no amount of help from others will make him change.
Please do not point to the actions of bad priests and bad Catholics who are moralists. We must not judge Catholicism according to the actions of those who practice it incorrectly.
To conclude, my argument in a nutshell is this: we must disallow abortion, contraceptives, gay marriage and divorce because they can easily allow couples to use each other for selfish purposes. If we allow these, then we consider the possibility of using each other for selfish purposes as acceptable which, in turn, means we consider the possibility of rejecting the intrinsic value of certain persons as acceptable. If it is possible to reject the intrinsic value of some people, then we necessarily reject that all human beings have an intrinsic value.
Some people are not intrinsically valuable = (negation) All people are intrinsically valuable.
This is a non-Catholic argument because it does not refer to any Catholic doctrine which non-Catholics will automatically reject. However, I think this is an argument which Catholics can safely use for a pluralist audience without contradicting any of their beliefs.
But what about those who reject that humans have intrinsic value and that what is right is determined by the strong or powerful? Then the best reply to them is this: Imagine that you are one of the subjects of a cruel autocrat. If you have no intrinsic value, then the autocrat can kill you at any time or torture you in the cruelest possible way for no reason at all. If this does not make them change their mind, then only God can.