Illegitimate Orientation image

Illegitimate Orientation

Even if, as medical research seems to suggest, paedophilia is a sexual orientation, none of us would want to see paedophilia legitimised. As Simon Bass, CEO of CCPAS, wrote on Think last week, “One danger of seeing paedophilia as a sexual orientation (ignoring the different age bands within the clinical definitions of those attracted to children) is that of legitimisation.”

No one (other than paedophiles) wants to legitimise paedophilia, but it seems to me that saying we cannot grant that paedophilia is an orientation because that could legitimise paedophilia is to try and add a layer to a house of cards that has already collapsed. Our society has legitimised the concept of orientation, so if a particular sexual orientation is an orientation, then to pretend it isn’t is naïve: doing so leaves us trying to balance cards in the air.

One response might be to dispense with the notion of sexual orientation altogether. After all, most human societies for most of human history have managed to get along perfectly well without such a concept. In such a society, decisions about what is sexually appropriate or not are made on the basis of larger societal considerations – generally those of legitimate procreation. The contemporary West has moved rapidly from such considerations in recent decades though, and it seems unlikely that a move back towards them will happen anytime soon. Also, if orientation really is (at least in part) biologically grounded, it would be obtuse to ignore the reality of human biology, whether or not we like the implications of that.

Rather than deny biological realities, we would do better to recover the old theological concept of concupiscence – our orientation towards fleshly desires. This is our fundamental orientation problem! If we understand concupiscence to be the orientation that really counts, then we will not assume that any other orientation legitimises particular behaviours. Rather, our fleshly desires must come into submission to what is right. If community is to be built and humans flourish, we all need to put to death the desires of the flesh (Rom. 8:13), whatever our sexual orientation. We also need to look forward to the hope of resurrection life, when we shall “bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:49) and will no longer wrestle with the disobedience of the flesh.

Concupiscence leads us to what is illegitimate. That is our orientation problem.

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