"Parts Is Parts" vs "Natural Relations"
by Shane Scott
When I was in high school, Wendy’s fast food chain ran a commercial mocking the odd appearance of their competitor’s chicken sandwiches. According to the ad, the other fast food places simply mashed various assorted pieces of chicken together into a mold to look like a chicken breast, and justified this processed concoction with the slogan, “Parts is parts!” Meanwhile, Wendy’s chicken sandwiches were made from actual chicken breasts, and looked like the real thing!
I don’t know how much truth there was to that commercial, but it certainly stuck with me! And by making a contrast between that which is synthetically pieced together and that which is ordered by nature itself, that commercial serves as a great illustration of where we are in our culture when it comes to sexual ethics. And that subject in turn illustrates two competing visions of reality.
On the one hand there is a worldview that sees order in nature, and that further realizes that for there to be rational processes like cause and effect, or abstract concepts like mathematics, there must be a rational mind behind nature – God. This also means that we can learn a great deal about God’s purposes by observing the order of nature: eyes are intended to see; ears are intended to hear; and men and women are intended to enjoy the comprehensive procreative and unitive bond Scripture describes as the “one flesh” relationship of marriage (Genesis 2:24). (For a fuller treatment of this naturally-ordered view of sex and marriage, see my earlier article)
On the other hand, there is the worldview which says that all that exists is matter, that there is no order or purpose in nature, and therefore there is no transcendent moral order. The universe is nothing more than swirling atoms of various combinations. “Parts is parts!” Such a worldview has many implications. It can look at a baby in the womb, and rather than see a human being, it can quite literally see nothing but “parts” for sale, as the recent exposure of Planned Parenthood revealed in nauseating detail. But it also means that when it comes to sex, since there is no order or purpose evident in nature, and since “parts is parts,” any combination of sexual partners is acceptable, provided there is consent.
The recent Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage is certainly not the first example of this “parts is parts” approach to sexual ethics. The synthetic approach to sex really began in our country with the “sexual revolution” of the 1960’s, with the normalization of sexual intercourse outside of the context of marriage. Since “parts is parts,” multiple partners are interchangeable, regardless of commitment. This escalated in the 1970s with the redefinition of marriage created by no-fault divorce, eliminating marriage as a context for permanence, treating even spouses like swappable parts of machines.
And the current fad of same-sex “marriage” will not be the last manufactured version of sexual ethics. The day after the Court’s decision, a columnist in Politico Magazine argued for the legalization of group marriage. “Polyamory is a fact. People are living in group relationships today. The question is not whether they will continue on in those relationships. The question is whether we will grant to them the same basic recognition we grant to other adults: that love makes marriage, and that the right to marry is exactly that, a right.” After all, if “parts is parts,” why does marriage have to be limited to just two parties? Why not three or more?
And why should it be limited to humans? If “parts is parts,” and atoms are really all that exist, why shouldn’t a person be able to marry any other conglomeration of atoms, like a robot? In an article that at first glance sounds like a satire piece from The Onion, but is sadly all too serious, Law and Ethics professor Gary Marchant contended for human-robot marriage in the August 10 issue of Slate. “The path to recognition of robot-human marriage is likely to be equally, if not more, lengthy, torturous, and contested. But as the court emphasized at the close of its opinion in Obergefell, the issue comes down to the ‘fundamental right’ of a person in a free society to choose the nature of the relationships and lifestyle they choose to pursue, providing they do not unreasonably harm others in exercising their choices. Robot-human marriage is not about robot rights; it is about the right of a human to choose to marry a robot.”
(This brings to mind another childhood memory – the following joke: What do you get when you cross a gorilla with a calculator? A Harry Reasoner. Whatever you do, please don’t repeat that joke to Professor Gary Marchant and give him any more ideas!)
The point I am making in this article is that how you look at the biggest question of all – what is the ultimate reality, mind or matter – decisively shapes how you look at the question of sexual ethics. This clear link between worldview and morals is spelled out by Paul in Romans 1:18-32. In verses 18-20, Paul says that the Gentiles suppressed the truth about God that was made evident to them “in the things that have been made” (v. 20). Rather than acknowledging God’s “eternal power and divine nature,” the pagans “became futile in their thinking,” and substituted gross idolatry and the worship of the creation over the worship of “the immortal God” (1:21-23).
And since they gave up God, what did God do? He gave them up.
First, “God gave them up to the lusts of their hearts to impurity” (1:24-25).
Second, “God gave them up to dishonorable passions” (1:26-27). And these dishonorable passions took the form of women and men exchanging “natural relations for those that are contrary to nature” (v. 26). The word Paul uses here, translated “relations,” is the Greek word chrēsis, and refers to “a state of intimate involvement with a person, relations, function, especially of sexual intercourse” (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Third Edition). In other words, there is a natural function for sexual intimacy, but same-sex relations are contrary to that natural function. “Parts is NOT parts!”
Third, “God gave them up to a debased mind” (1:28). The rest of the chapter outlines what a debased mind looks like in practice (1:29-32).
Notice that Paul doesn’t say that God intended to give the pagans up if they did these things. What he says is that God gave them up and that’s why they did these things. In other words, flagrant sexual immorality, brazen homosexual activity, and endemic social depravity do not lead to God’s judgment – they are God’s judgment.
And this judgment happens when people exchange the truth of God for a lie (v. 25). It doesn’t really make a lot of difference whether you think the best chicken sandwich is artificially made or all-natural, but it makes an eternal difference whether you believe the ultimate reality is the creation (“parts is parts”) or the Creator (“who is blessed forever! Amen” – v. 25).