Incest is wrong whether looked at from a religious viewpoint or from a scientific one. So why are acts of incest, while rare, occurring with more frequency? A.P. Schrader investigates.
Earlier this week, a 47-year-old man and his daughter were both gaoled for the second time for having sex. Sentencing the pair for their latest offence, Judge James Burbidge said : “There appears to have been a relationship that involved genuine affection, but it was also an illicit relationship, a relationship that is regarded as abhorrent to society at large.”
This incident raises one of those questions that previous generations would never believe could be asked. Unavoidably, it comes about as a result of the decriminalisation and increased social acceptance of homosexuality. If homosexuality is okay, why is incest wrong?
Incest is certainly a taboo, even today. Indeed, it is pretty much the most common cultural taboo in the world and has been throughout history in both present and former societies. There has been a consistent consensus on this issue throughout recorded time yet it does increasingly come into question when stories such as this incident in Birmingham.
This is undoubtedly one of those debates where being a Christian helps. I am not burdened by any qualms over incest. I am not burdened with a need to sit around wrestling with this issue and treat it as some great moral conundrum. Incest is immoral, pure and simple. The Church of England will allow marriage up to and including first cousins – though even this is something of a taboo nowadays, whereas once it was considered perfectly acceptable especially in aristocratic circles. I am generally an enthusiast for the aristocracy but, nevertheless, it has to be said that many of them are a living, walking advertisement against inbreeding.
Genetics is a firm reason but cannot be the fundamental basis. While it is a well-known fact that such relationships produce mentally deficient and deformed offspring, incestuous sex can be non-reproductive (though the risk is always there and no form of contraception is fool-proof). Similarly, arguments about consent are problematic, since incestuous sex – like homosexual sex – is often consensual and therefore makes incest an entirely separate issue to generic child abuse. It is at this stage that liberals usually throw up their hands and proclaim defeat. After all, if both parties are consenting adults and the genetic rationale is bogus, why should the State get involved? The ‘ick’ factor is, they say, insufficient.
My response to that would be that, apart from my religious convictions, it seems clear to me that basic wrongfulness of incest lies in the damage it inflicts to the Family unit. So many of society’s problems can be traced back to family breakdown. A sexual relationship between a parent and child is destructive to the Family. Even this, I suspect, will be an insufficient argument for certain people but that is simply a symptom of the fundamental sexual confusions that lies at the heart of our age. To my way of thinking, all sexual ‘deviance’ (if I can be permitted to use that term, I can’t think of an alternative one) – homosexuality, polyamory, adultery, bestiality, incest, etc—violates the ‘natural order’, if we can call it that. Families, which I believe form the bedrock of all strong and just societies, depend upon moral structure for their existence. Anything that confounds or frustrates that structure is likely to cause the Family distress, to the point where it falls apart. Where families break down, you end up with a series of seriously distorted and disoriented individuals.
So, from a non-religious, purely social policy point of view, it seems clear to me that incest messes up the Family. If you mess up the Family, you mess up the kids. That family breakdown will then go on to precipitate a wider societal breakdown and all the antisocial problems we see reported every day. It causes a ripple effect: what starts with a couple splitting-up goes on to rip through the social fabric of the country.
Clearly, one feels some sympathy for two individuals who genuinely believe themselves to be in love but, ultimately, one cannot get away from the fact that they are fundamentally confused and engaged in an activity that is both damaging to them and to their families but, also, to society at large. The taboo that exists around incest is evidence of man’s elemental understanding of the danger it represents.