From the Pen of Andrew Klavan “Words, words, words”

One of the best essays I have heard on the topic:

In his fascinating book on moral intuition, The Righteous Mind, psychologist Jonathan Haidt tells the fictional story of what he calls a “harmless taboo violation.” A sister and brother, Julie and Mark, are traveling together. While staying at a beach cabin in France, they decide it would be a fun new experience to have sex with one another. They take strict precautions to avoid pregnancy. They make love and enjoy it. It makes them feel closer. They then decide never to do it again. They keep the incident a secret between them.

When test subjects were presented with this story, they reacted strongly at first: “It’s totally wrong.” But when questioned about why it was wrong, they were stumped. There’s no danger of pregnancy. The relationship isn’t damaged. No one else knows. The subjects began to hem and haw — but even so, they stuck to their position that the act of incest was wrong.

“People were making a moral judgment immediately and emotionally,” Haidt observes. “Reasoning was merely the servant of the passions, and when the servant failed to find any good arguments, the master did not change his mind.” In other words, our moral intuitions are not based on reason, and some may be mere evolutionary remnants, no longer legitimate.

My own reaction to the story, however, was very different.

I thought: It’s wrong for Julie and Mark to have sex with one another because they are sister and brother. That is part of what the words sister and brother mean.

Words are rude tools with which we communicate the human experience. Portions of that experience are secondary constructs that can be analyzed to reveal their component parts. But some experiences are primary. They are not made of smaller pieces. They are what they are and the ramifications emanate from their essential nature. You do not have sex with a sibling or an offspring because it is a violation of the nature of those relationships. This is why, in much of medieval Europe, it was illegal to sleep with your stepchild. This is why filmmaker Woody Allen’s reputation was destroyed when he ran off with his wife’s adopted daughter. Despite what materialist thinkers tell us, morality is not merely a question of the potential consequences of bad actions. It is designed to guard the integrity of relational life. It is designed to keep the human experience human.

Only an intellectual could be foolish enough to think otherwise.

Later in the same essay, Mr Klavan observes:

The post-modern idea that words do not adhere to these meanings is nonsense. The late hipster comedian George Carlin had a famous routine called “The Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television.” In it, he repeated a string of obscenities over and over to make the point that the prohibition against them was irrational.

It’s a funny routine, but misguided. Just as I can say the words pine tree and communicate the idea of a pine tree, I can use a four-letter word to convey a materialist dehumanization of the act of love.

This is why wise women don’t curse. They pay a far greater price for dehumanizing the body than men do and therefore have a far greater investment in preventing it. Think about the modern prevalence of foul-mouthed females and then think about the podcast Whatever, where foolish women defend their right to degrade themselves sexually. These two phenomena are not unrelated.

Now obviously human reality is not God’s reality, and so our experience is somewhat fluid. Some truths are variable. They are of their culture and of their time. What is becoming modesty in a woman may be different in New York than it is in Abu Dhabi. But there are greater truths that are true always. Modesty in a woman is a virtue because of the essential relational experience of being women and men.

Academics, adolescents, and other buffoons sometimes believe that the fluidity of human experience negates the existence of human truth altogether.

If people believe in different gods, there must be no god. If they have different tastes in art, then beauty must exist only in the eye of the beholder. “What is a crime here is often a virtue several leagues hence,” explained the Marquis de Sade. He was making the case that we should all enjoy raping, torturing, and murdering those weaker than ourselves. Why not, if morality is conditional?

The fact that spiritual perceptions differ in different times and places gives us good reason to be tolerant and to keep an open mind.

But the idea that it negates the essential truths of the spirit is patently absurd.

By all means, read the whole thing.