Scholar and author Robert R. Reilly was Senior Advisor for Information Strategy (2002-2006) for the U.S. Secretary of Defense, after which he taught at National Defense University. He was the director of the Voice of America from 2001 to 2002, and served in the White House as a Special Assistant to the President from 1983 to 1985. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and the Claremont Graduate University, and has written widely on “war of ideas” issues, foreign policy, and classical music. His previous books and monographs include Surprised by Beauty: A Listener’s Guide to the Recovery of Modern Music, The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis, and The Prospects and Perils of Catholic-Muslim Dialogue.
His new book, Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything, was published recently by Ignatius Press. It has been praised as “magnificent, a real achievement” (Austin Ruse, President, Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute) and described as “rare tour de force on a defining question of our time” (Dr. Robert Royal, President, Faith & Reason Institute). Reilly recently corresponded with Carl E. Olson, editor of Catholic World Report, about his new book and its approach and arguments.
CWR: Right at the start, you make the connection between contraception and same-sex marriage, writing in the Introduction that the “progression from the one to the other was logically inescapable.” What are the main points of that progression? How unique is the “capstone” of same-sex marriage; that is, how uncharted are the waters that have now flooded society?
Reilly: The key is separating sex from diapers. Once you consciously subvert the procreative power of sex with contraception, there is a very slippery slope—more like a cliff, actually—down to the moral pigpen where sex is simply a form of degraded entertainment. You try to grab the pleasure from the act, while denying the thing toward which the act is essentially ordered.
So it is perfectly logical to go from contraception to abortion (so those whose contraception has failed are not “penalized”) to the celebration of sodomy as the basis of marriage. Homosexuals can easily pose the question, “if you endorse contracepted heterosexual acts, what could possibly be wrong with our acts which don’t even have to be contracepted?”
The logic of the situation makes it very easy to see where this is going next—polygamy and polyandry. In fact, a Federal District Court has already taken a step in this direction in respect to Utah’s laws against polygamy. When we allow homosexual acts to serve as the basis for “marriage,” anything goes.
CWR: Your thesis, as you noted, “is very simple: There are two fundamental views of reality.” What are those two views of reality? And if the thesis is simple, why is it so difficult for people to either comprehend it or to explain it themselves?
Reilly: One view of reality—the Aristotelian one—holds that things have a Nature that is teleologically ordered to ends that inhere in their essences and make them what they are. In other words, things have inbuilt purposes. We don’t get to make them up; it is what makes them what they are in reality. They are a given. Reality exists without our permission. When we discover what something is for according to its Nature, our job is to conform ourselves to its purposes—including to the purposes we have according to our human Nature. According to Aristotle, this is how we achieve happiness—through virtuous actions. A virtuous action is one in conformity with our natural ends. This requires the rule of reason—because we are, above all, rational creatures—over our passions.
The other view is that things do not have a Nature with ends: things are nothing in themselves, but only what we make them to be according to our wills and desires. We no longer have to conform ourselves to reality, but can conform reality to ourselves. It is no longer our reason that rules our passions, but our passions that rule reason in the sense that reason is demoted to a servant of the passions. Its job becomes finding the most efficient way of satisfying the passions. Therefore, we can make everything, including ourselves, anything that we wish and that we have the power to do. This is the modern project. However, the modern project can only be attempted if we accept as real only those things that we can change, and ignore the reality of those things that we cannot change. In the 20th century, John Dewey said, “Man’s nature is to have no nature.” If there is no Nature, then there are no “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” and the field of action is clear. The only limits that really exist are the limits of our power. Right becomes the rule of the stronger.
This is what is behind the deliberate denial of reality. It is not based upon ignorance; it is a deliberate, dogmatic denial. For instance, if the Aristotelian conception is correct, then sodomitical marriage cannot possibly be right, because it goes against the inherent unitive and procreative ends of our sexual powers. It is against human flourishing. But if John Dewey is right, there cannot possibly be anything wrong with sodomy or homosexual marriage. So what is really being contested here is the nature of reality. That is what is at stake in the debate over same-sex “marriage”.
CWR: There is, obviously, a deeply moral aspect of the debate over homosexuality. But, closely related—intertwined, really—are a number of essential philosophical distinctions and arguments. What are the really key philosophical issues? And would it be fair to say that much of the support shown for same-sex marriage betrays a failure to think clearly, deeply, and logically?
Reilly: Once you get rid of Nature, there really are no standards against which to judge moral behavior or anything else. Nature is replaced by History. In other words, man does not have an immutable Nature; therefore, he can be essentially changed. He is a product of his times. His times make him. This is how U.S. District Judge John E. Jones reached his silly May 20, 2014, decision invalidating Pennsylvania’s laws restricting marriage to a man and a woman. Like a good historicist, he said, “It is time to discard them into the ash heap of history.” Judge Jones is probably unaware of the origin of the “ash heap of history” phrase, used ironically by President Ronald Reagan in his famous Westminster speech. It was first used by Leon Trotsky against the Mensheviks in the Russian Revolution. What we are experiencing today is a kind of sexual Marxism. Instead of a classless society, we have a genderless society.
If you think that is an exaggeration, consider U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Michael McShane’s May 19, 2014, ruling against Oregon’s constitutional restriction of marriage to a man and woman. He said, “I believe that if we can look for a moment past gender and sexuality, we can see in these (same-sex) plaintiffs, nothing more or less than our own families, families who we would expect our constitution to protect, if not exalt, in equal measure.” Of course, we cannot look past gender and sexuality and see our own families, because our own families were generated heterosexually by people of two different genders. Had they not been, our families would not be there. This is an illustration of how great a part of reality must be denied for the modern project to proceed.
As far as logic is concerned, these people are perfectly logical based upon their premise in the same way that a paranoid schizophrenic is logical based upon his premise. The problem is that the premises are false. They both deny reality. I think Professor Robert George’s remarks at the national Catholic prayer breakfast on May 13, 2014, are particularly apt here. Despite assertions that Catholics are “on the wrong side of history,” he said, “history, is not God. God is God. History is not our judge. God is our judge.”
CWR: How has homosexuality been rationalized among homosexuals themselves? And how is homosexuality and same-sex marriage being rationalized within the culture and the courtrooms?
Reilly: Active homosexuals rationalize their misbehavior in the same way as anyone else rationalizes their immoral acts. We all have disordered desires of one sort or another. If we choose to act upon them, as Aristotle taught in The Ethics, we must present the bad act to ourselves as a good act. Otherwise, we would be incapable of choosing it. In other words, when we lie, we are not really lying or, when we steal, we are not really taking someone else’s property. As J. Budziszewski puts it, we aim “not to become just, but to justify ourselves.” Most often, after the act, our rationalization is penetrated by the rebuke of conscience and we admit to ourselves that we have done something wrong. Contrition follows and moral reality is restored.
However, if we choose to be professional thieves—if we base our life on an immoral act—we then have to construct a more permanent rationalization that can survive the rebukes of conscience. We have to construct an alternate reality, an ideology, in the perspective of which our immoral act becomes a moral act. Think, for example, of the Communist who asserts that private property is the root of all evil, and therefore justifies himself in confiscating it. Likewise, if one should choose to center one’s life on the act of sodomy, one will have to build an imaginary world for its validation. Listen to this cri de coeur from a homosexual character in Larry Kramer’s 1985, play, now an HBO special, titled” The Normal Heart”: “I’ve spent 15 years of my life fighting for the right to be free and to make love wherever, whenever. We have been so oppressed … can’t you see how important it is for us to love openly without guilt?” There is the nub of it—“without guilt.” The purpose of the rationalization is to remove guilt. This is its psychological dynamo. This is what drives it. If sodomy is right, why can’t it be sacramentalized in a homosexual marriage? It will then be impervious to any rebukes. It will become holy. This is the final step in the rationalization—the sanctification of sodomy.
To see the rationalization—the absolute denial of reality—in action, here is a recent online dialogue with the homosexual (my remarks in italics):
Homosexuals cannot physically consummate a marriage — which means and has always meant coital sex. Isn’t that obvious? How could you possibly deny it?
You ask how anyone could possibly deny that homosexuals are unable to consummate a marriage. It’s easy. The word “consummate” flexes a little just as the word “marriage” has done. Consummation means something slightly different for a gay couple than for a straight one. Does it matter? Do we even need the word “consummation” in a gay marriage?
Simply call a giraffe a donkey and, voila, it becomes one! Magic! Just like homosexual marriage.
Yep. That’s more or less the way it works, except that there has to be widespread acceptance of the word’s new or expanded meaning.
Do you really think your redefinition of reality actually changes reality? If so, you are living in a magical world—and I don’t mean Disneyland. Welcome to the world of Gnosticism and all its attendant spiritual pathologies.
By the way, one should mention that an essential ingredient in the success of the homosexual rationalization is the backing it is getting from those who have rationalized their heterosexual misbehavior. The arrangement goes something like this: if you will rationalize my sexual misbehavior, I’ll rationalize your sexual misbehavior. This expands the sources of support.
However, for a permanent rationalization to become effective, it has to be universalized. Everyone must agree, or be made to agree, that a particular wrong is actually a right. This was the mission of the Communist Comintern—to universalize the Marxist-Leninist rationalization. This is also what we have seen happening in the homosexual movement. It has had to universalize this right by engaging in a culture war that has silenced its opponents at just about every level of our society—it’s business leadership, civic organizations, such as the Boy Scouts, the psychiatric profession, many churches, and, finally, the institutions of government. Now, the courts and the institutions of government are being used to enforce the recognition of this right against those—including the members of every major religion, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam—who might otherwise raise an objection and therefore disturb the rationalization.
Again, this is not an exaggeration. At the professional level even in the private sector, openly supporting marriage as between one man and one woman has become a career killer. In US government at the cabinet secretary level, no one can now serve who is unwilling to participate in, and issue a declaration on, the celebration of Gay Pride Day. Sodomy has also become part of our foreign policy. If you think this is over the top, please see this May 17th story in El Mundo, with a photograph of the Gay Pride flag flying over the US Embassy in Madrid. This is how our country is now officially represented.
CWR: What are the most misleading statements being made today either in support of same-sex marriage or in opposition to those who uphold marriage as a lifelong union of a man and woman? How can those be countered?
Reilly: The celebration of homosexual behavior is terribly misleading in its neglect of the medical facts regarding the lethality of this behavior. Not only is there no natural right to an unnatural act, but Nature itself rebels. The body becomes confused by the misuse of the sexual organs and the result is the rampant spread of disease. The rationalization for homosexual behavior even includes the denial of death or, in some cases, its actual pursuit—as in the “bug chasers” who actively seek to be infected by HIV because of the additional thrill the risk of catching it purportedly provides.
Today, those who uphold real marriage are stigmatized as “haters.” This is because people who are ruled by their passions cannot imagine any opposition to the exercise of their passions as coming from anything other than another passion—in this case, hatred. It no longer occurs to them that the objections to homosexual behavior are made on the basis of reason from an apprehension of what truly contributes to human flourishing.
I often use the analogy of an alcoholic. If one truly loves or respects a person who is an alcoholic, one would not suggest to him that we celebrate together his alcoholism in an Alcoholic Pride Day and then invite him to a bar for some drinks. That would be a form of condescension to an alcoholic. It would be a sign of disrespect. Likewise, colluding in the Gay Pride movement is ultimately a sign of disrespect for people with homosexual orientation. They certainly deserve our compassion, as many of them have this inclination through no fault of their own—usually from some childhood trauma. But the first thing they deserve as human beings is the truth. Compassion does not trump truth. And the truth is becoming harder to tell. As George Orwell wrote, “the more a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.” Nonetheless, our obligation is to tell the truth and not participate in the lie.
As far as the best way to counter the most misleading statements, I would suggest buying my book and using the arguments in it. That may sound self-serving, but I was at great pains in writing this book to give not the religious reasons against homosexual behavior and marriage, but the rational ones. Quoting Scripture in the public square does not work anymore. The only chance we have of being heard is to make our arguments from reason. That is what I try to do.
CWR: There is an increasing insistence by those in the pro-homosexual camp, as mouthed even by the Attorney General, that “science” has demonstrated the normality and goodness of homosexuality. On what basis are such claims being made? And why did the American Psychiatric Association never address any of the “science” when it suddenly changed its definition of homosexuality in the 1970s?
Reilly: Homosexuality was defined as a mental illness or a “sociopathic personality disturbance” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association. Homosexual activists, like Franklin Kameny, realized that this definition had to be changed if the homosexual rationalization was to succeed. He said, “I feel the entire homophile movement… is going to stand or fall upon the question of whether or not homosexuality is a sickness, and upon our taking a firm stand on it.” This demand was obviously not inspired by scientific inquiry, nor was the change made in 1973 the result of any new scientific research. It was the political product of the sheer muscle of the homosexual lobby. Even some homosexual psychiatrists were appalled at the abandonment of scientific standards as a result of this change.
In Attorney General Eric Holder’s 2011 letter to Congress, he explained why the Obama administration would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as being between one man and one woman, in court. A group can be defined as a “class,” explained Mr. Holder, if individuals “exhibit obvious, immutable, or distinguishing characteristics that define them as a discrete group.” Therefore, everything hinges upon whether homosexuality is an unchangeable characteristic. Mr. Holder announced that, “a growing scientific consensus accepts that sexual orientation is a characteristic that is immutable.” So great is this consensus that claims to the contrary “we do not believe can be reconciled with more recent social scientific understandings.”
This is complete nonsense. There is no such science. There has been no discovery of a “gay” gene, though there may possibly be genetic characteristics contributing to the orientation. It has become forbidden to mention, or in certain places even practice, therapy that has successfully changed the homosexual orientation of individuals who wanted to change. It is against the law in California for therapists to help young teenagers who wish to change their homosexual orientation. This is the price the rationalization for homosexual behavior is willing to exact. Like the Communist Party, you can enter the “gay community,” but you can’t leave it. Traitors will be dealt with. Look what happened to Dr. Robert Spitzer, who had been such a help to homosexuals within the psychiatric profession. When he did a study demonstrating that homosexuals can change their orientation, he was mercilessly pilloried.
CWR: It appears inevitable that most or all states will soon accept same-sex marriage. What next? What other legal measures are likely to follow?
Reilly: One year ago, in his dissent to the United States v. Windsor decision, which overthrew the federal Defense of Marriage Act in favor of homosexual marriage, Justice Antonin Scalia predicted that all of the state laws and constitutions, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman, would be overthrown as well. As he so often is, he was right. This is what we are now witnessing on an almost weekly basis. As I already mentioned, polygamy and polyandry are next.
We should not get too discouraged. Illusions always lead to disillusion. In the end, reality wins. However, the price for that victory is going to be great, and we are all going to have to pay it.