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A silver lining to the cloud that is Hollywoods
Kinsey can be found in how Alfred Kinseys views on sex are
again coming under critical scrutiny, as is the fuzzy thinking often used
to propagate them.
Statisticians and researchers can show through detailed analysis how wrong
Kinseys supposedly scientific conclusions were. Here I focus on
the question of normality and how we are supposed to readjust our views
of morality based on Kinsey.
The famous studies of human sexuality conducted by Kinsey claimed that
a high percentage of people engage in what by traditional moral standards
is sexually immoral behavior. Many of Kinseys results have been
challenged by other studies and are generally held by many experts to
have been refuted. Some scholars argue that Kinsey deliberately skewed
the results to advance his sexually permissive worldview.
But what if Kinseys figures had been correct? The conclusion
many people think we must draw from Kinseyand which many people
have drawnis that traditional moral norms regarding sex arent
good for people. Sexual license, on this view, is actually a good thing.
Lets set aside the pragmatic arguments from the social and personal
disasters generated by the sexual revolution. Instead, consider the sheer
logic (or illogic) of the argument from statistics for revising sexual
Does it follow that if, say, most married people commit adultery at some
point or anotheras Kinsey claimed, but other researchers havent
corroboratedthat adultery must be moral? In other words, if the
normal conduct married people exhibit, whatever they may claim to do,
is adulterous, should that lead us to conclude that fidelity in marriage
is wrong and adultery is good?
Lets try that logic in other areas of life. How many of us have
never told a lie? Does the fact that almost every human being has lied
mean that lying is acceptable? Some people justify lying in order to save
lives (e.g., hiding Jews from Nazis) or to avoid hurting peoples
feelings (that "white lie" you told your mother about her new
dress). Moralists debate and quibble over whether and the extent to which
such things are, in fact, lies. But most people at one time or another
have lied for reasons they themselves otherwise acknowledge are
wrong. Does this mean lying in this way should be commended because it
is, statistically speaking, "normal"?
Or how many of us have never stolen something, even if only a candy bar
as a child? Does the fact that all of us or most of us have done it at
some level at least make theft morally acceptable, or something to be
If neither lying nor theft can be justified by an appeal to numbers, why,
then, should we conclude that marital infidelity could be baptized if
we foundcontrary to what researchers seem to have foundthat
most married men and women are unfaithful to their spouses? One hundred
percent of us do something immoral or unethical at one time or another.
That doesnt make it "morally acceptable" to be immoral
or unethical, regardless of whether we would call doing wrong "normal."
The problem is, "normal" can mean what everyone or most everyone
does. Thats what we might call statistical normality. But "normal"
can also mean "according to the norm," the standard concerning
the good that ought to be done and evil that ought to be
avoided. Thats what we might call moral normality. What is statistically
"normal" is frequently not morally normal, which is why we exalt
the virtuous man. He stands out precisely because he is not "normal,"
statistically speaking, but is "morally normal" in that he sets
the standard or norm the rest of us should strive for.
Its no good simply looking to statistical normality to determine
moral normalitycertainly not if traditional Christianity is right
about fallen humanity. Most of us are, in varying degrees, hypocrites,
saying one thing and doing another. The best most of us can hope for in
this life is to become honest hypocrites, people who admit we fall short
of the standards we nevertheless insist upon as good and right.
Hypocrisy is, as H.L. Mencken observed, the compliment vice pays to virtue.
The moral masks we hypocrites wear reveal what we should look like,
even while they conceal, or attempt to conceal, our true faces.
In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis noted how most human
beings know at least two basic facts regarding right and wrong: (1) that
there is a universal, objective moral law and (2) that we all violate
it. This is another way of saying that what is normal, as far as what
human beings should do, isnt normal as far as what human
beings in fact do. Even if Kinsey had discovered evidence
of what is normal regarding sex in the second sense of normal, it wouldnt
have undercut the evidence (or the ethical demands) of what is normal
in the first sense. To claim otherwise, as Kinsey did, is to voice not
a mature sense of morality as some claim, but the most childish of retorts
to justify evil behavior: "Everybody else is doing it."
[This column originally appeared in the Nov. 28-Dec. 4, 2004 edition
Mark Brumley is President of Ignatius Press.
A convert from Evangelical Protestantism, he was greatly influenced by Bouyers
book The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, when he first read it
over twenty years ago.
He is the author of How
Not To Share Your Faith, and contributor to The
Five Issues That Matter Most. He is also a regular contributor to
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