The “ick” factor, at least as the term is used in the narrow confines of revisionist blogdom, usually refers to the sense of revulsion that the “unenlightened” experience when considering what actually occurs during a sexual encounter between members of the same sex. The “ick” factor is the outward and visible sign of the inward and invisible homophobia animating those who stand in the way of “justice” and “inclusion”.
Elizabeth Kaeton+ defines the term:
“The “ick” factor, of course, has been defined as the visceral reaction some have in response to thoughts about oral sex in general and anal sex in particular.
You can hear the “ick factor” in statements such as that which good Roman Catholic William F. Buckley once said to his equally Roman Catholic gay brother, Andrew Sullivan: “It’s not who you are that’s a problem, it’s what you do.”(posted at “Telling Secrets” September 29th, 2007)
Kaeton, strangely, seems willing to accept the distinction between “being” and “behavior” in this case, a distinction that revisionists generally refuse to acknowledge. The common phrase, “hate the sin, love the sinner” is, for example, routinely met on revisionist blogs with incredulous disdain.
There is good reason, however, for revisionists to highlight the distinction with regard to the ick factor.
For Anglican “centrists”, the ick factor is the visceral reaction that necessarily prohibits the reasoned assessment of homosexual behavior, an assessment that may end in acceptance and normalization. The Lambeth 1.10 sanctioned “listening process” demands, some believe, that the ick factor be overcome. How, they ask, can we listen to the experience of homosexual people if our consideration of that experience is tinged with revulsion?
Beyond the Anglican realm, to secular observers the “ick” factor is a clear sign of discrimination, like the response of a racist to the idea of integration or intermarriage. Below is a selection from a German opinion article from the magazine Die Zeit translated and excerpted in Harper’s. It applies the ick factor more broadly to all sexual relationships but the point is the same:
There is a correlation between the level of Puritanism and the “ick-factor.” The more puritanical a society, the less tolerant it is towards gay partnerships, divorces and unmarried people living together—indeed, of anything which departs from the old moral concepts; indeed, sexual impulses erupt and strike out on their own, into the secretive. When a society is more tolerant, then these types of scandals begin to disappear from the headlines. American will not free itself of the “ick-factor” until Americans are able to accept the fact that a president is in his fourth marriage and a governor lives with his friend.”
The ick factor is for this secular writer a sign of bigoted intolerance.
Given such widely perceived connection, both among “centrist” Anglicans and secular observers, between revulsion and prejudice revisionists are especially keen to seize upon and categorize almost all negative reaction to homosexual display under the ick factor label. This allows them to both reap the political benefit of portraying the orthodox as homophobic bigots and it reinforces their own self-justifying perception of the same.
The “gay wedding” in the Church of England last weekend provided a fantastic opportunity to employ this tactic.
Here, by way of illustration, is an English blogger’s take on the conservative response to last weekend’s gay wedding ceremony:
So many things we do now would be considered “not what god wants” from a strictly scriptural standpoint. Marriage, at least according to the bible, used to mean anything up to a man and a hundred women, some of whom were as young as 12 years old. That’s changed. So I’m thinking this “one man, one woman” idea is something that can be negotiable as well, and the insistence on it is really just the “ick” factor that certain people are unable to get past.”
The insistence on heterosexual marriage is, according to this blogger, not theological but rather it is rooted in the orthodox’ inability to quell their irrational revulsion.
It is important, I think, to agree that in our fallen condition our emotional reactions are often skewed. We are drawn to what we ought to despise and we are repulsed by what we ought to love.
God created human beings with faculties designed for his glory. Our conscience and emotions, if properly tuned, would reflect his character. We would always be repulsed by sin and always be drawn to purity.
One key element, in fact, of the process of sanctification, of being conformed to Christ, is the re-tuning of our conscience and our desires. God changes our minds and our emotions follow. Over time we begin to love what God loves and hate what he hates.
Paul, in Romans 7:14-25, expresses deep loathing for his inability to act in accordance with his new love for righteousness. He does what he hates and he does not do what he loves. He cries out for rescue from his “body of death” (v.24). Paul is repulsed by his own sin. His new heart wants to please Christ.
The fact is that if homosexual behavior is morally neutral or if it is a moral good in certain contexts, say a monogamous relationship, then the “ick factor” reflects an unsanctified aspect of our nature, something that must be changed in order to be brought into conformity with Christ.
If, however, homosexual behavior is an abomination (Leviticus 18:22); if the desire is inherently disordered (Romans 1:26-27) and the action is contrary to God’s design and intention (1 Corinthians 6:9), then a visceral negative reaction to it reflects a conscience and a heart aligned with the mind of Christ.
It is a good thing to be repulsed by sin.
The “ick factor” tactic is essentially question begging. The real question is whether the behavior that evokes the “ick” ought so to do.
The answer to that question is, of course, quite clear and the tactical shaming from the left serves only to callous good consciences.
There is, however, a more difficult question to be raised. Why do some of us feel revulsion for some sins and not for others? Is there a sort of prejudice at work here that causes heterosexual men, for example, to react with disgust at the thought of gay sex but with titillation at the exploitation of young female bodies in the media?
Shouldn’t both be sickening? Both offend God and hurt others.
The revisionist answer to this sort of inconsistency is to suggest that the ick factor needs to be overcome altogether. The orthodox answer, I think, is that the ick factor ought to be far more comprehensive and extended. We should be at least as viscerally disgusted with heterosexual promiscuity as we are with homosexual monogamy, with malice, greed, slander, and pride as we are with same sex blessings.
The “ick factor” is a fine and good thing but felt, unfortunately, all too infrequently and inconsistently.