“Anthony and Cleopatra” by Lawrence Alma-Tadema
Secularism
In the Matter of Incest

In mid-September, the German Ethics Council recommended that sexual relations between consenting adult siblings be decriminalized. It is worth noting how all arguments presented in the Council’s carefully worded document are of a completely secular nature.

Published on: October 15, 2014
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  • Boritz

    “The greater risk of birth defects and disease discovered by genetics for the offspring of sibling couples.”

    Careful what you wish for.  By ultimately brushing off this consideration the door is opened to a truly frightening future:   the mainstreaming of GMOs.

  • lhfry

    The goal of advocates of same sex marriage is to eliminate the institution. Their leading spokespersons have certainly made this clear. To quote one Masha Gessen, (recently honored by the US State Department and about whom our esteemed Secretary of State, John Kerry said: “….here in the United States, we know that she is a wonderful person – a mother, a journalist, an extraordinary human
    rights defender – and we are honored by her presence here. “)

    ” I agree that we should have the right to marry, but I also think equally that it is a no-brainer that the institution of marriageshould not exist. . . . Fighting for gay marriage generally involves lying about what we’re going to do with marriage when we get there, because we lie that the institution of marriage is not going to change, and that is a lie. The institution of marriage is going to change, and it should change, and again, Idon’t think it should exist.” from: http://news.yahoo.com/lesbian-activist-surprisingly-candid-speech-gay-marriage-fight-144222847.html

    Other forms of “marriage” are now being promoted using the same sentimental arguments used to deceive the naïve and unlettered about same sex marriage. Here is a list of mainstream press articles for the credulous to peruse:

    http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2013/06/polyamory_should_be_legal_it_s_consensual_and_fine_for_children.html
    http://prospect.org/article/our-coming-incest-debate
    http://prospect.org/article/slippery-slope-polygamy-and-incest
    http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/12/17/should-plural-marriage-be-legal
    as well as longtime website http://www.beyondmarriage.org and its
    manifesto.

    On another note, the Germans recently tried to re-criminalize sexual relations between people and animals. The only grounds they could discover were cruelty to animals! For the details: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/12/01/germany-weighs-bestiality-ban-amid-rise-of-pet-porn-animal-brothels.html

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    The notion of adult sibling marriage was foreseen by Robert Musil’s in his 1930 novel “A Man Without Qualities”, which describes our postmodern antinomian age (it is antinomian in the sense of very tenuous “nomos” or “nomoi”, also known as world-maintaining institutions or narratives. In interpretive sociology “nomos” stands for order and a secure taken for grantedness of the world after sociologists Carl Schmitt, Alfred Schutz and our digital sociologist-in-residence Peter Berger).

    The central character in Musil’s book, Ulrich, has an incestuous meeting with his sister Agathe. They see themselves as “Siamese twins” or as would be said in current postmodern parlance: “soul mates” (coincidentally a term also used by an online Christian dating service called eHarmony.com). Musil’s most famous line in his novel is: “Pseudoreality prevails.” Now some 75 years later we see Musil’s pseudoreality emerging as a reality.

    In a society where pluralism and secularism dominate the secondary institutions (work, public schools, government) such antinomianism or lack of the incest taboo is now creeping into its primary institutions (family, friendship networks, sibling relationships, religious institutions). Which touches on the question that Peter Berger broaches: on what “ethical” grounds can “religiously neutral” government forbid adult sibling marriage? As one well-known Jewish religious radio media personality in the U.S. has stated: “If love is the only standard for marriage, then what’s wrong with polygamy or incest?”

    The answer for many Christians is that incest violates God’s laws. But God’s laws have been relegated to the category of “old fashioned” in a secular society.

    Adult sibling marriage is not only a challenge to code-based Christian ethics but to Peter Berger’s “perceptual ethics.” If people are acculturated to see nothing wrong with adult sibling marriage how can it be wrong?

    However, I can see a basis for the possible prohibition, or at least limitation, of adult-sibling marriage from a perceptual ethical standpoint. Perceptual ethics, as I understand Peter Berger’s articulation of it, is based on a sense of perceived discrepancy, intuitive wrongness, and perhaps even injustice. Berger has brought up the example of Harriett Beecher Stowe’s novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, which brought out the discrepancy of how slaves lived in the U.S. prior to the Civil War into public consciousness. Stowe was a deeply religious abolitionist.

    Both religious and non-religious worldviews may agree with Berger basing perceptual ethics on “the dignity of man (and woman) is inviolate.” Extending this ethical concept to children poses a perceptual and actual problem.

    I have not thought this through thoroughly but I would ask if both religiously and secularly “man’s dignity is inviolatable”, what about the uninfringable innocence of children? Shouldn’t children’s innocence also be inviolable? Is it ethical to inveigle the sexual innocence of children’s by prematurely sexualizing them to the option of adult incest? If adult sibling sex prevails, what will prevent stepchildren incest over the age of 12? Or what about incest between adopted children and children of the same bloodline as the parent? And even for adults, isn’t incest the exact opposite of autonomy (in the sense that one never is able to transcend one’s class, caste, or clan)?

    Peter Berger raises the issue of childhood innocence himself in his novel Protocol of a Damnation.

    Again, would incest violate the innocence of children who are born from an adult-sibling marriage? Anthropologically as well as theologically, should children be guaranteed a childhood of innocence as much as possible? Or is this bourgeoisie Peter Pan thinking?

    In anthropologist Adam Kuper’s book “Incest and Influence: The Private Life of Bourgeois England”, he describes the cousins marriages and influence of eminent bourgeois family clans in the 1850’s and 1860’s – the Wedgwoods, Darwins, Rothschilds, Barclays, Trevelyans, Macaulays, Wilberforces, and Stephens. Kuper asserts that what led to in-marriage was a lack of modern day limited liability of financial bankruptcy. Trust, secrecy, and keeping wealth within the family of each private partnership was absolutely essential. But this can also be described as countermodern: the individual was not believed to have the “autonomy” to be liberated from class, clan, or partnership. How far is social scientist Charles Murray’s admonition about an inbred American “New Elite” from the incestuousness of Victorian England?

  • Gary Novak

    The German Ethics Council explains its attention to the issue of sibling incest by
    claiming that prohibition of such incest “has created great suffering to
    those affected”; additionally, its attention may induce serious reflection
    about the meaning [or lack of meaning] of marriage. I recently referred to the
    great suffering caused by marital infidelity– even if marriage is not a
    sacrament. So, I’m receptive to arguments based on great suffering. But I find
    it hard to believe that the prohibition of sibling incest has caused great
    suffering (and no one claims it has caused widespread suffering). I suspect
    that reflection about the meaning of marriage is the primary concern in taking
    up the issue of sibling incest.

    By endorsing sibling incest in the face of the facts about birth defects (which do
    cause great suffering), the need for role differentiation for the integrity of
    the family, and incest prohibition as a cultural universal, the Council is, as
    Berger points out, basing its recommendation on “one central value of a
    free society– the autonomy of every individual that is essential to the
    latter’s dignity.” As we know from previous posts, Berger strongly
    supports the principle of inviolable human dignity. It forms the centerpiece of
    his denunciation of capital punishment. But recognizing human dignity does not
    mean giving people everything they want! The mother can respect her child’s
    dignity even as she says “no, no” as the child reaches out from the shopping
    cart to grab everything as they move down the candy aisle.

    Am I guilty of viewing adult siblings as children? I think it would be more
    accurate to say that I view many demands for “progressive” change as a
    consequence of a false ideology which dismisses received institutions as the
    product of unenlightened minds. Why should we worry about overturning the
    traditions of the benighted past? Wouldn’t it be immoral to respect tradition
    when we know better. DO we know better? Of course! That’s why our “serious
    reflection about the meaning of marriage” can render a verdict so quickly.
    Marriage is the social recognition of individual love. Period. Negative
    biological or social consequences cannot be allowed to limit individual
    freedom.

    In his final paragraph Berger goes beyond the specific issue of sibling incest and
    argues that in a pluralistic and democratic society the government must be
    religiously neutral—it cannot sing from a Christian hymnal. But religious
    rationales for various positions still contribute to the secular discourse that
    dominates in the public sphere. To be influential, religious rationales must be
    “translated” into the secular discourse, but the fact that they originate in
    religious discourse does not disqualify them from public consideration. Except
    in Houston, where the lesbian mayor and the city attorney have subpoenaed the
    sermons of pastors whose congregations have contributed petitions to have a
    referendum on Houston’s “Bathroom Bill”—which allows individuals to choose
    their gender identity when using a bathroom. The pastors are to turn over all
    sermons dealing with the mayor, homosexuality, and gender identity. Mayor
    Parker does not seem to realize that there is a problem singing from an LGBT
    hymnal in City Hall. I am reminded of Arnold Swartzenegger’s line in “True
    Lies.” When asked if he had ever killed anyone, he replied, “Yes, but they were
    all bad.” Bigots are bad; who needs the Constitution. (And, of course, anyone
    who thinks men and women should use separate restrooms must be a bigot.) I
    suspect that the mayor is about to learn that many of the people who voted for
    her were casting a symbolic vote for tolerance and did not imagine that she
    would try to ban religion.

    Lusvardi has taken us back to Musil. Let me take us back even further to Wagner’s “Die
    Walküre.” Wotan’s offspring Siegmund and Sieglinde are separated in childhood,
    and she is forced into an unhappy marriage. Siegmund comes to the rescue, and
    their incestuous union produces Siegfried, who is instrumental in ushering in
    the twilight of the gods. Support sibling incest and get rid of the gods—sounds
    like the Ethics Council’s playbook.

  • Anthony

    “On both sides of the issue the arguments move within a rigorously secular discourse.” The central value of the Enlightenment – autonomy – continues to reconfigure existentialism in free society. Berger’s topic brings to mind the human moral sense or moral psychology (mental processes that people experience as moral-religious). Secular and non secular are being asked to rethink a distinctive “way” of acting (behavior) and to jettison previous taboos at the alter of man’s inviolability. Is this societal progression (pluralistic democracy inevitability)? Such an abrupt change may lead an outsider to ask are convictions based on principles or operating norms and taboos. Principles I’m sure cannot be so easily compartmentalized despite recommendation of German Ethics Council seeking to mesh with the Federal Republic.

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