Collect


Collect for the Second Sunday after Easter

Almighty God, who hast given thine only Son to be unto us both a sacrifice for sin, and an example of godly life: give us grace that we may always most thankfully receive his inestimable benefit; and also daily endeavor ourselves to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end.
Amen.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Pacifisticuffs, Part One

Until recently, my general opposition to violence was of little importance, since I was barred from military service in any case. Now, it is still of little importance; save that if the draft is ever reinstated, I will have to register as a conscientious objector.

I am not a pacifist sensu stricto -- I do not believe that violence is always and intrinsically wrong. I don't reject Just War Theory, though I do doubt that more than three or four wars in the history books even have a shot at being regarded as partially just. But I do insist, adamantly, that the best and most efficacious tactics are always those of nonviolence -- similar to what Gandhi called satyagraha or "the force of the truth."

It is a rather disquieting symptom that the retort of many Christians to this will be that it is impractical, rather than to dispute whether it is in fact best. That we must make concessions to a fallen world, I understand and admit; that we must criticize things primarily from the perspective of a fallen world, I deny utterly. Whether something is practical ought always to be considered, and, for a Christian, it ought always to be the last thing considered. There are few things less practical, in a worldly sense, than being crucified. Or, viewed from the other side, there are few things more practical. But -- "the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men."

Before any question of pacifism or semi-pacifism -- or, for that matter, militarism -- can be addressed, this tendency must be addressed: the tendency, marked (in my experience) among American Christians of nearly every stripe, to judge things by a very worldly standard of effectiveness. This is in some ways to be expected, for Christianity has been accustomed to being the dominant religion in all of Western society for considerably more than a thousand years; Christendom has shaped Christianity, even while it was shaped by it. That the faith has acknowledged and developed a theory of just war is one thing, but for war to be a normal and acceptable thing to Christians is wrong.

And why do I speak of war being a normal and acceptable thing to Christians? Because I have almost never heard denunciations of wars from Christian lips. To take a specific example, that Blessed John Paul II opposed the American invasion of Iraq as unjust plainly did not faze many Catholics, including many who regard themselves as thoroughgoing traditionalists. Or consider that Cardinal Ottaviani, one of the most stubbornly conservative opponents of reform at the Second Vatican Council, was a bitter critic of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, acts now practically taken for granted as justified by many ostensibly orthodox Catholics. (Not that the problem is an exclusively Catholic one.)

What is desperately needed in these circumstances is a return to first principles. Chesterton was right: what is wrong with the world is that we do not ask what is right. For if we do not first settle what is desirable, we cannot even decide that something less desirable than that is an acceptable compromise -- or, as my logic teacher used to shout, "Define your terms!"

The first principles of Christianity include, among other things, a love of peace, a belief that peace is worth sacrificing oneself for. I take this to be beyond serious dispute. To reference I Corinthians again, St. Paul rebuked the church there for suing one another over property, and remarked -- so blasphemously to capitalism and to all the disciples of Mammon! -- "Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?" Naturally, the immediate response of many people will be that neither Christ nor His apostles decreed that Christians had no right to defend their property, and the fact that that is the immediate response is the problem. The instinctive posture of a Christian ought always to be one of surrender, of gift, of -- well, of imitating our Divine master:

"For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow in his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed." -- I Peter 2.21-24

Are there reasons for Christians to defend their rights, whether we speak of the courts or of war or of anything else? Certainly. It can be obligatory in some cases, as when others (especially our families) depend on us to do so, for their well-being. But these things must be recognized for what they are: exceptions to the obvious pattern of the New Testament. Valid exceptions, but exceptions nevertheless. If we lose sight of the ideal -- the disciple who forsakes father and mother and his own life also -- we will be adrift in a world with a faulty compass. If our values are derived from exceptions instead of from ideals, we may be confident that we are secretly setting up alternate ideals that serve our own purposes and even our own lusts. And the very truth contained in these exceptions will work against us, making them harder to perceive and so harder to cure. "If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!"

Dorothy Day -- a devoutly Catholic anarchist and pacifist, whose cause for sainthood was recently endorsed by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops -- used to remark that she was a pacifist in the class war as well as in warfare. Likewise. I'd like to spend my next few posts exploring nonviolence in national war, class war, and the culture war. Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Deplorable Word

In C. S. Lewis' novel The Magician's Nephew, the sorceress Jadis (later to be known as the White Witch) explains to the central characters why her world, Charn, was utterly dead when they discovered it, save for herself. She had been engaged in a war for the throne against her sister, and finally elected to employ her most inexorable weapon:

"It had long been known to the great kings of our race that there was a word which, if spoken with the proper ceremonies, would destroy all living things except the one who spoke it. But the ancient kings were weak and softhearted and bound themselves and all who should come after them with great oaths never even to seek after the knowledge of that word. But I learned it in a secret place and paid a terrible price to learn it. ... Then I spoke the Deplorable Word. A moment later I was the only living thing beneath the sun."

Probably I am overreacting, but I sometimes feel as though the Catholic Church believes that gay is the deplorable word. Not that Catholics can't stand gay people -- most of my friends are Catholics (or some other variety of Christian), and most of them know I happen to be gay, and most of them don't treat me any differently on that account. It is literally the word which they can't abide. I'm sometimes challenged on my use of it: I've heard everything from "Why would you call yourself that?" to "First of all, you're not gay."

Now, to do justice to the situation, some of the motives behind this aversion are good ones. The Catechism says explicitly that "men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies ... must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity" (para. 2358); and one element of this is a concern among many Catholics -- especially, I think, clergy -- that people not reduce their human dignity and identity to a single aspect of their character. To regard yourself solely, or even chiefly, as deriving selfhood and meaning from your sexual proclivities would be seriously dehumanizing, and not just on the assumption that such proclivities are wrong. It is, therefore, a credit to their sincere desire to respect people that so many Catholics have trouble with the statement, "I'm gay."

A related problem is the belief that calling yourself gay or queer signifies not only homosexual attraction, but a broader understanding of homosexuality: namely, that homosexuality is part of your essential makeup -- that queerness is not only inborn and immutable, but even metaphysically or spiritually different from heterosexuality. This idea has been nicknamed essentialism, and is admittedly incompatible with the Catholic doctrine of sex, which recognizes only one essential difference among human beings as such, that being the difference between male and female. It's feared, frequently, that the word gay causes scandal -- a technical term, in moral theology, for drawing other people toward sin (deliberately or by accident) -- by appearing to support essentialism.

Unfortunately, to anybody who is not coming at the matter from exactly that angle, these concerns sound so ridiculous as to be simply not credible. I have occasionally run into other gay men, lesbians, and so forth, who do espouse essentialism; but the theory was never universal even in the gay community (regardless of how universal it may have seemed among LGBT lobbyists), and, to judge from my reading and my experience, has been declining in popularity. Nor do I recall that I've ever met anybody, except Catholics, who connected the use of the term to the essentialist theory. When most people say "He's gay" (or whatever), what they mean is, "He likes other guys"; they aren't making a philosophical definition by the use of the Deplorable Word any more than they would be if they said, "He's a redhead." Furthermore, identifying somebody just by their sexual orientation is indeed stupid, tasteless and insulting -- and it was already known to be so by queer people. Why was it being supposed that we didn't realize that?

In consequence, when most people hear discomfort with, or outright opposition to, the use of the word gay, what they hear is -- discomfort with even the idea of homosexuality; with any public discussion of it; with any knowledge that a given person is attracted to the same sex. Naturally, this strengthens the impression most people have that the Catholic Church is an intensely homophobic institution -- the concerns about such terms, once expressed, giving an impression of nothing more than a whitewash of hypocrisy.

Now, ideally, it would be possible for Catholics to simply point to their well-known reputation of hospitality and respect for everyone, in order to refute this picture.

Obviously, we can't. And, while the media are not exactly friendly to Catholicism by any stretch, our inability to simply point to our speech and conduct as proof that we do love and respect queer people is not the result of a conspiracy among journalists and entertainers. It is the result of our speech and conduct.

Why won't the explanation (that gay people don't mean what Catholics think they do in using the term) dispel the discomfort? Some of this must admittedly be put down to queer advocacy and its habits. An awful lot of gay men and lesbians are defiant, contemptuous, and provocative, both in their support of LGBT causes and in hostility to those who oppose such causes, in any way and for any reason; the Church, naturally, is a major target of such things. This anger is quite understandable, but it doesn't make for fair-minded or intelligent discourse. Calling Pope Benedict a Nazi, or same-sex kissing in front of Focus on the Family's headquarters, is not calculated to make one's opponents any more open-minded than they were before; it just satisfies (or, possibly, inflames) the desire to shock -- and perhaps, in some small way, feel avenged.

But surely that can be left aside? Provided that everybody knows what everybody else means, is there really a reason to fight tooth and nail over terms? Well, there can be: the Church is rightly protective of her terminology, which is essential to her theology for practical and traditional reasons; and given terms may have rather unsavory associations. A lot of people may leap up at this point, to argue that that is precisely why they avoid the word gay, and use same-sex attracted instead.

Which is terrible tactics, if you're talking to a queer-identified person. The phrase same-sex attracted has a decades-long history of being employed by psychiatrists attempting to cure homosexuality, often through behaviorist conditioning -- chemically induced nausea and electric shock being among the less barbarous means employed. And the association of that phrase with those tactics is of much longer standing than the association of the term gay with anything intrinsically incompatible with Catholic teaching; the word is notoriously mutable.

For me, using the Deplorable Word rather than same-sex attracted is largely meant to avoid scandal. Scandal, not to my Christian brethren, but to other gay men and lesbians. They may be surprised that I hold the views I do, but their surprise is not based on the words I choose; it is based on the fact that an openly gay man should nonetheless assent to the Church's doctrine of sexuality and of homosexuality.

Catholics are, in my limited experience, very alive (rightly) to the danger of scandal; and also very unrealistic about what is likely to scandalize people. Or, they are focused wholly on the scandal of setting a bad example -- almost never upon the scandal that results from setting a good example in a way that is opaque, ugly and alienating. Respect, compassion, and sensitivity? It's common sense to let somebody else describe themselves to you, especially if you do not share a major experience they are describing. Gay people don't need the Church to tell them that they have human dignity; we knew that already. Gay people don't need the Church to agree with them about the morality of homosexual acts; speaking as a gay man, if we want others to respect our opinions, we must set an example by respecting theirs.

Nor do queer people need Catholics to talk about how much they love and respect homosexuals. We've been hearing that, from Catholics and a lot of other people, our whole lives. What we need is proof. And that, Catholic reader, is up to you.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Tolerance?

Tolerance can be something of a dirty word in conservative Christian circles. There is some reason for this. I don't espouse the paranoia voiced by many Christians -- that The Secularists are going to devour western civilization in a depraved orgy of irreligion, as one does; but all the same, the word is often to be found in the mouths of those who seem quite unwilling to put up with public expressions of faith. Tolerance, as set forth by the ACLU or the Freedom From Religion Foundation, is not necessarily any less dogmatic and definite than orthodoxy -- which wouldn't matter, except that orthodoxy, to its credit, frankly professes its refusal to tolerate that which it defines as error.

I rate respect a damn sight more worthwhile than tolerance. Respect implies a generosity of spirit and a dignity of discourse that seem absent from public fora in this country. To state that you tolerate another man's opinion has an inevitable air of condescension. To say, agreement aside, that you respect another man's opinion implies a greater regard for the self-sufficiency of the truth, and for the right of the individual to seek that truth to the best of his ability. In Dignitatis Humanae, the document that formally established the Catholic Church's support of religious freedom, a related sentiment is expressed: "The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entry into the mind at once quietly and with power."

I propose that tolerance be replaced with respect. Now, I can imagine that lots of people find this appealing on the face of it, but stop and consider that it will be hard work.

For atheists, agnostics, and so forth, it would mean abandoning -- categorically abandoning -- the vitriol and contempt of figures like Richard Dawkins or (requiescat in pace) Christopher Hitchens. Also it would mean admitting, first, that religious persons have a right to their convictions; and second, that those convictions stand or fall on their intellectual merits -- which must be examined before being dismissed or ridiculed; and that means doing the examining oneself. But equally, for believers of whatever variety, it would mean abandoning the belittlement and self-righteousness that have typified the response to atheism, past and present (Bill Donohue of the Catholic League being a disgraceful example of such bullying). It's high time those things were abandoned in any case; on their own premises, Christians have no business treating others arrogantly, and if Christianity is true, then we should have no need to get shocked and defensive when people question it. 

For both sides, it means abandoning the childish and contemptible caricatures of people on The Other Side as idiots led only by what they want to think is true. Even of people of whom that evaluation is accurate, such caricatures are not made with legitimate argument in mind; supposing that the truth is rationally discoverable (as both the New Atheists and Christians do), that is the real business to be attended to, and disparaging people's character is beside the point. It smacks of preaching to the choir, something I for one can't stand -- whether the choir is singing Mozart or Muse is here irrelevant. No intellectual progress can be made except by considering ideas upon their internal merits. The motives of those who believe ideas are categorically irrelevant to that problem, even if they're terrible.

So, if you liked this post, or it made you think, I am going to suggest something. Before commenting on it, take one week, and seriously try to believe that people you disagree with are sincere and intelligent human beings. See what that does to your heart, to your speech, to your conduct.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

News: Stanford Law School Opens Religious Liberty Clinic

I don't usually read the New York Times -- partly because I trust very few media outlets, out of a mixture of apathy, good training in logic, and anarchist sympathies; partly because its hostility to the Catholic Church makes me cranky (I've checked its headlines for nearly six years now, and can recollect perhaps two occasions on which articles on the Church, which are legion, were anything but negative). However, a blurb caught my eye in today's issue, and I actually read it. The article was rather poor, glaring with oversimplifications and false dichotomies, but the event it described was interesting: Stanford Law, which already houses a number of clinics devoted to particular fields of legal study and practice (such as environmental law and immigrant's rights), has just opened one devoted to cases on religious liberty. A few cases already taken up were mentioned in the Times, including those of some Seventh-Day Adventists fired by FedEx for refusing to work on Saturdays, a convert to Judaism in prison who was refused circumcision, and a Moslem group having difficulties in building a mosque due to land-use laws.

I don't hail this as the dawn of a new era, or even as a group of manifest national, cultural, and religious heroes; but I am cautiously optimistic, and interested to see where this goes. I am particularly encouraged that the group (founded by a Catholic lawyer and including students from divergent Christian traditions) has taken up a case involving the rights of Moslems, a less-than-popular cause among many Christians and among many conservatives, even those who profess great concern for religious liberty. Fingers crossed.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Interior Apocalypse

What do gun control advocacy, the Mayan calendar, Harold Camping, campaigns against gay marriage, Communist sympathies among youth, and Westboro Baptist Church have in common?

If you said "I'd rather not be closely associated with any of them," well, you may have a point. But the thing that strikes me about them all is that they are all, in extremely different modes, expressions of something that seems to be an increasingly large element in the American psyche: preoccupation with, even an appetite for, apocalypse.

This is not a specifically religious phenomenon: it can be detected as much in concerns about the dwindling supply of fossil fuels and the long-term consequences of pollution as it can in sermons decrying the totalitarian implications of the HHS mandate. It takes on more obviously apocalyptic language in the mouths of believers, especially conservatives, but the mentality is the same: currents of fear, anger, and urgency, overlaid by an often fanatical assertion that if we don't do something now, our way of life -- perhaps the planet itself -- is doomed.

Feelings like this do not arise without reasons, but the reasons to which they attach themselves do not seem very reasonable. Take, for instance, the debate over gun control that has flared up again after the tragedy at Sandy Hook. I am not at all speaking to whether the proposals set for by President Obama and others are good ideas -- nor could I, since I have barely more than hearsay to go on. But does anyone really suppose that if we just made enough laws, bad things would stop happening? The sort of person who commits a mass shooting is not likely to care about having broken gun laws in the process. Conversely, human life and human death are infinitely more important than the right to bear arms, and there are more dignified ways of defending that right than using the brutal murder of two dozen people as a peg on which to hang one's pet political cause. Neither side seems prepared to regard this as a simple dispute between two views; both are claiming that their opponents' views will turn the nation into Nazi Germany. Because everybody knows that all wrong policies go directly to Hitler, do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

Or take the dispute over gay marriage. Lots of advocates compare it to the civil rights conflicts of the sixties; which, speaking as a gay man, strikes me as being in rather poor taste, given the horrors endured by racial minorities in that decade and earlier (and since). Lesbians and gay men have suffered pretty ghastly things too, a fact of which the churches are not adequately cognizant or respectful; but the scale and depravity of the way those of African descent have been treated -- even aside from our maltreatment of other groups disadvantaged by race -- dwarfs the injustices of queer history. Meanwhile, on the other side of the nation, people explicitly declare our nation to be a new Sodom for legally sanctioning gay marriage, marked for collapse into barbarism and under Divine judgment. The idea that Christians might have to learn to live with gay marriage is abhorrent; better to sit outside the city under our gourd-bearing vine, waiting for Nineveh to be destroyed. But -- "Should I not spare Nineveh, that great city wherein there are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?"

To be frank, I do believe that America is echoing Sodom, but I don't believe it has anything to do with gay marriage. Scripture has this to say about the sin of Sodom:

"Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good." -- Ezekiel 16.49-50, emphasis mine.

That has been an accurate description of our nation for some years. We know it. In our heart of hearts, we know it. And we have the gall to suppose that God doesn't mind our incessant accumulation of possessions, our utter disregard for justice in trade, our desire to do as little work as possible -- but when people's sex lives are wrong (as, in every society, they always have been), God will start raining fire and brimstone. It's displaced guilt, it's scapegoating.

My point is not that the Christian stances on sexual mores are wrong: I accept those stances, and in fact accept the specifically Catholic version thereof, which is one of the more demanding varieties. My point is, rather, along the lines of what Charles Williams said in his history of the Holy Spirit's operation in the Church:

"It is at least arguable that the Christian Church will have to return to a pre-Constantine state before she can properly recover the ground she too quickly won. Her victories, among other disadvantages, produced in her children a great tendency to be aware of evil rather than sin, meaning by evil the wickedness done by others, by sin the wickedness done by oneself. The actuality of evil does not altogether excuse the hectic and hysterical attention paid to it; especially to those who appear to be deriving benefit from it; especially to benefits which the Christian spectator strongly disapproves or strongly desires. Even contrition for sin is apt to encourage a not quite charitable wish that other people should exhibit a similar contrition." -- The Descent of the Dove, pp. 86-87.

The only thing that can actually heal this nation is personal repentance. And person repentance must be carried out by persons, not institutions acting on our behalf, whether secular or spiritual; and repentance is an act of the will, not a decree of the law. Our avid expectation of an apocalypse is a displacement and externalization of the real need for the interior apocalypse, the interior revelation of the kingdom, the power, and the glory of God in Christ as applied to ourselves. Even the churches can't do this on our behalf; still less the state, nor would it if it could, for the corridors of power are inhospitable to humility. We each must choose to open our hearts to the supernatural power of that kingdom. We can't do it for anybody else. Again I quote Gandhi: "We must be the change we wish to see in the world."

Will that heal the nation, though? What can I possibly do?

The only thing you were ever able to do in the first place: reform yourself.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Viva la Revolucion

The inauguration approaches. Quick, everyone care. We Americans are very good at caring about things, until we forget about them. We worked ourselves into a passion over drones, until we were done. We were outraged with the Democrats, or the Republicans, about the fiscal cliff, until we weren't any more.

I've washed my hands of the GOP and the Democratic Party alike. Studying history, especially the history of the twentieth century, can do that to you. Christianity can do that to you too (though there are plenty of intelligent and devout Christians who, with whatever reservations, still account themselves members of one party or the other); for the final loyalty of a Christian is -- or rather, ought to be -- to God. Party loyalty begins to seem a little petty, grotesque even, when set beside His claims, which have a somewhat monarchist flavor.

I've washed my hands of the parties, indeed of political parties in general, because I don't believe any of them can get anything done that's worth doing. Think about that, because it isn't just a cynical, humorous turn of phrase -- I really believe that the things in life that are most worth doing are things that cannot be accomplished through our current political system. It's on the cards that they can't be done by any political system. For the thing we have forgotten is that politics exists, or should exist, in order to serve human life, and not the other way around.

It is the dim memory of that that makes both the liberal and the conservative points of view plausible: the conservative, seeing the government's power to intrude upon and interfere with the business of life, attempts to limit it in every respect; while the liberal sees the dispossessed and the disfranchised, and therefore tries to find some way of ensuring that a real shot at human life is really available to everybody, and seeks the alliance of the government in so doing. Neither view is manifestly ridiculous. But both have fallen -- not in themselves, but in our time and place -- for the nonsense that politics are one of the purposes of life; like a homeowner who devotes all his energy to keeping his home in good repair. A well-kept home is good, but is good to live in, not as an end in itself. Otherwise it's only a haunted house.

So what is this business of life? The pointless things. Again, that is not mere flippancy, it is a real and vibrant truth. We do most things to obtain a result: you go to your job because you need the paycheck; you need the paycheck to pay your bills, and so forth. Politics is one of those types of things: we make laws and pay taxes in order to have a functioning society (in theory, anyway), not because these things are fun. (If anyone cares to defend the thesis that American politics are fun, I wish first to be told why they have gone off their meds.)

But there are a handful of things in life -- God, romance, philosophy, friendship, art -- that are beautifully pointless. To put it another way, they're things we do simply because we want to do them; because, in some mysterious sense, we care about the things themselves, and not what they get us. And notice that it is these pointless things that are alive, that are real expressions of and impulses to life. Practical things always have a scent of death to them; which is not surprising, when you think that practical things usually have survival, in one form or another, as their purpose. I defy anyone to sit through even half an hour of the discussion of a bill in a legislature (as I once had to do, for several hours) and not wish for the death of all present, including oneself.

Peter Maurin, one of the founders of the Catholic Worker movement, used to say to workers who told him that their bosses would never espouse his ideas, "Fire the bosses." In politics, I say the same. I say this partly in the sense that I do espouse political ideas not unlike those of Peter Maurin, Dorothy Day, and their companions; but more than that, I refuse to accept that bureaucracy and demagogic posturing are really the important things in life. They openly profess practicality. They will not reign over me. I will be ruled by pointless things; they shall be my constitutional monarchs. Long live the kings -- long live the revolution.

In short, the problem I have with drones is not only that they kill people; the problem with drones is that they are dead; and dead things are easily remote controlled. Pursue the pointless things. Be alive. Revolt.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Introduction in Defense of Everything Else

I became a Catholic nearly five years ago. I had been considering it for years: my theological convictions, my interest in Christian history, and my love of ritual all pointed me in that direction; and a growing sense of exile, of wanting the Church as my mother and the saints as my brothers and sisters, stirred a longing for Rome in me. At long last I swam the Tiber, and became one of the most popular -- and, to a lesser degree, potentially difficult -- things in the Catholic world: a convert.

Though a lot of people (myself included) are intimidated by their first contacts with Catholicism, I've never experienced any dislike on the grounds of being raised a Protestant. Converts are not at all the social equivalent of Muggle-borns from the Harry Potter universe -- despised for their non-magical ancestry by aristocratic Purebloods, even subjected to derisive epithets like "Mudblood." Converts are generally well-liked, and most Catholics are eager to hear their stories of the road to Rome.

But I did begin to notice, after a year or so, a different sort of disconnect. It wasn't so much that I have a mouth like a sailor. The radicalism did disconcert some people: my politics are what many people would politely call "eccentric," though "brain-numbingly lunatic" is closer to the mark; so in that regard I was expecting to be a social anomaly. More difficult has been the fact that I am openly a chaste gay man -- though at least once, on mentioning it in passing, I was told, "No, you're not." It was all I could do not to laugh.

I don't intend to blog chiefly about being gay and Christian; plenty of other people have told their stories eloquently, and with more erudition -- Melinda Selmys, Steve Gershom, Joshua Gonnerman, and Eve Tushnet spring to mind. But the combination of two very different worlds -- the postmodern, left-wing, avant garde world, and the hieratic, labyrinthine tradition of Catholicism -- experiencing both of these things in myself gives me a keen sense of how tragic the division between them is; and, at times, a keen sense of being unwelcome, or at any rate of being a second-class citizen -- a Mudblood, as it were -- in both. My friend Nathan said just recently, "I think the hardest part of being gay and Christian has nothing to do with sexuality or scripture, but everything to do with trying to live between two tribes of hurt, and therefore hostile people who are too tired to try and speak each other's languages." That is, of course, susceptible of a wider application.

It is that kind of gap, that inability to understand, that I want to bridge. I hate us-them mentalities with an irrational passion, and find them specially culpable among Christians; after all:

"Now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: and came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh." -- The Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians 2.13-17, in the King James because it sounds awesome.

This isn't an abstract piece of argument, though it expresses through mystical ideas the binding together of very different kinds of people. St. Paul, born and raised in the rabbinic tradition of ancient Judaism, was also (as his letters show) well-educated in the classics of pagan Greek culture, and drew freely from both sources for both language and ideas. In other words, St. Paul listened as well as talking. And that makes sense. It squares with the Golden Rule, as taught by Jesus; nobody likes to not be listened to (I find it pretty difficult to school my temper when I feel I'm being disdained or ignored). It has practical advantages, too: St. Thomas Aquinas, in baptizing Aristotle, revolutionized the Catholic faith, making it more philosophically expansive and dextrous than it had ever been before. It also sets a good example: Gandhi said that we must be the change we wish to see in the world, so if we want our voices heard, we must prove by example that people's voices being heard is important to us. And there's only one way of doing that.

And finally, it is better from an evangelistic perspective. Pope Benedict has spoken much of the New Evangelization, of the need to proclaim the Gospel again to regions once Christianized. To do that effectively, we need to know what people outside the faith think and why they think it; and that requires a respectful and receptive set of ears more than an open mouth. Talking and not listening is not admonishing the sinner; it is being a bully and a bad witness. If we value the expansion of the faith as much as we say we do, we'd better do what it takes to remove the obstacles to that expansion, including the obstacles of our own superiority, rightness, and comfort.

So -- to translate Mark 1.15 in a more modern idiom -- open your heart; the kingdom of God is at hand.