We all recognize it is good to be generous, but there are limits. For example, Herod was generous to offer the daughter of Herodias whatever she wanted. But he was just wrong to oblige the child’s request for the head of John the Baptist.
What if the daughter was terminally ill and had made an appeal to the Make a Wish foundation? Would we then agree that she should get John the Baptist’s head?
Clearly not. There are limits to what can be morally given, even when the one making the request is a terminally ill child.
Let’s keep that in mind as we consider Jag Levak’s “argument” for the appropriateness of granting sexual favors to dying children. Here’s what he wrote:
consider a scenario like this: Charlie, we’ll call him, is a 15 year old boy who will not live to see 16. He has an untreatable condition which the doctors have concluded will kill him inside three months, and he knows it. For now, medicine is holding the symptoms at bay, and he doesn’t feel bad most of the time, but that’s only going to last a little while longer. Charlie is good friends with Beverly, the single, attractive, 30 year old woman next door. He has long had a secret crush on Beverly, and with time running out, Charlie lets her know how he feels about her, and how one of the things he most regrets is that he is going to die never having known what it was like to be with a woman. Beverly is torn, but she ultimately decides the greatest good she could do in the situation would be to fulfill a dying wish for Charlie, and over the course of three weeks, they have multiple sexual encounters, which Charlie considers the best experience of his entire life. And then his symptoms worsen rapidly, and in another month he is gone.
Legally, there might be no question that Beverly committed a felony sex offense. But morally? What sort of standard could hold without qualification that what she did was evil? How many people would righteously condemn her for the gift she gave a dying boy?
Jag seems to think that this scenario is meant to present a challenge or a dilemma of some sort. Otherwise, why bother presenting it?
The problem is that this scenario has absolutely zero rational appeal to a person who believes it is wrong to grant sexual favors to children.
Imagine for the moment that the issue was torture. I’ve argued that it is always morally wrong to torture another human being. My interlocutor then replies like this:
“Okay, but imagine that there is a bomb hidden somewhere in a busy downtown and it will go off in an hour. The only way to prevent it going off is to torture the guy who planeted it by giving him electric shocks of increasing intensity until he talks. How many people would righteously condemn the police for torturing him?”
Would this familiar ticking time bomb trope have any probative significance for me to reconsider my position? Of course not. My position is that it is always wrong to torture people and that means that it is never morally permissible to do so. Thus, anybody who were to present a case for torture to me would be somebody who had apparently not yet grasped the position I hold.
You might as well try to win over a committed vegan by describing a thick, juicy steak.
So when Jag describes a scenario where a grown woman grants sex favors to a dying child, I’m not moved, I’m sickened.
The funny thing is that he thinks this is a moving scenario. As he commented afterward: “I deliberately chose a scenario which, based on the feelings most people would have, would tend to lead in a direction different from what an absolutist standard might, but that was the point. If our feelings are reliable, then the absolutist standard is not.” Based on what does Jag think that most people would be moved to give a nudge and a wink to Beverly’s actions?
Here’s one of the questions I then asked Jag: “What if Charlie is 14? Should Beverly sleep with him then? What if he is 13? 12? 11? 10?”
Jag replied: “I see someone running away from the scenario that was presented. If you are asking if there can be cases where it *would* be wrong for an adult to have sex with a child, then yes, of course. But that was never at issue. The question was whether it is *always* wrong.”
Notice that it is Jag who is “running away from the scenario that was presented.” He is quite sure that it was a good thing for Beverly to provide sexual favors to a fifteen year old child. But at the same time apparently he agrees that it would be wrong for her to grant the same request to a child of a significantly younger age. However, he refuses to say when.
And this is where Jag’s criticism of what he calls “absolutism” is exposed for the sham it is. You see, he just admitted that it would be wrong to have sex with children of a certain age. Let’s say Jag would draw the line at the age of ten. Sexual favors are okay for 11 year olds and up but not 10 and younger.
In this case he would be saying it is *always* wrong to have sex with a ten year old. And that means that Jag is as much an “absolutist” as anybody else. He just draws the lines differently.
And note that there are many people — members of NAMBLA among them — who would balk at Jag’s “absolutism”.
So Jag and I are both moral absolutists. (Welcome to the club Jag!)
The difference, as I noted, is that I believe sex should be shared between a couple in a married, covenantal union whereas Jag thinks it can be doled out to terminally ill fifteen year olds upon request.
In a follow up post I’ll say a bit more about how worldview assumptions shape our different positions.