Prolegomena to Polyamory

I’m continuing to mull over the topic of moral theology and polyamory, but before I write anything specific I wanted to set out a few preliminary premises.
First, I recognize that various readers might take offense at my raising the topic at all — whether because it is for them an integral aspect of their way of life, or because it is so obviously and vitally anathema to sound Christian teaching that for me even to deliberate about it entails my betraying the faith I am sworn to uphold. I apologise to both such communities of readers in advance. To polyamorists I say, “Look, I’m already firmly on record as stating that I’m governed by the Church’s rejection of that practice, and I’m inclined to be sceptical also from my own sense of who I am and what I can envision as a matter of human flourishing. The reason I want to bring the topic up in the first place is that I perceive a stronger theological case in behalf of polyamory than I would have expected before the recent Questionable Content brouhaha called the topic to my attention. So if you will, consider this the voice of a stranger acknowledging that he had been insufficiently careful in his past assertions. I’m not on your side relative to this, but I’m trying to think through the possibility, and I’m trying to recuperate from ignorance and dismissiveness.” If you’re still irritated at me for treating your life as a sort of lab specimen (“But is that thing good?”), I hear you, and I will not try to persuade you that you’re wrong to be mad at me.
If contrariwise you’re convinced that this is an obvious, non-negotiable pillar of Christian ethics, I recognize the force of that claim, too. I would rejoin that it still behooves theologians to explore topics such as this, in order to understand better the inner fabric that holds our moral teaching together, and also in order more charitably to interact with neighbours who take a different approach. Especially since I am interested in the signifying practice of Christian discipleship, it’s my responsibility to be able to make a case for what I teach; and the claim of self-evidence is rarely the strongest possible basis for moral teaching, since it only matters when in fact the topic isn’t self-evident to someone. If you then throw up your hands in exasperation and write me off as a hopelessly compromised liberal, I (grudgingly) understand the basis for that dismissal, and though I remain convinced it’s misplaced, I won’t waste both our time by trying to convince you that I adhere resolutely to what the Church teaches.
So I fully anticipate that some readers will consider my moral-theological musings about this to be an offensive waste of time and space, and to them I can only say that I haven’t yet learned the wisdom on the basis of which they can state that — but perhaps if I allow myself to muddle along with topics about which they’re much more comprehensively correct than I, I may run into the consideration or the fact or the argument or the angle or the convergence of the above that extricates me from my culpable wrong-headedness — though in which direction, I dare not guess. Hier stehe ich, as Martin Luther said, and we’ll learn wo gehe ich.

2 thoughts on “Prolegomena to Polyamory

  1. Thank you for the prolegomena.

    It eases some of my concerns about this topic, since I am split down the middle in my reaction.

    My emotional being is screaming “anathema” and my intellectual side I agree with you approach. Yes, the self-evident argument doesn’t hold much water and our ethical positions should be intellectually defensible.

  2. Why is giving offense held is such low esteem by a lover of Swift? Our fear of giving offense makes us defer to those who opinions or worldview are benighted. Giving offense for purposes of moral instruction – are you saying this is no longer taught to Episcopalian theologians? I would have thought that getting ordained would require some kind of proof that the preacher could offend the worldly to the point of getting himself crucified for it.

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