So I've been blogging for about four months on Mudblood Catholic now. I've enjoyed it, and I feel I've been discussing important questions. But my technique and tone have been something like this:
I have heard of people who don't like Handel's Messiah. They are wrong. So wrong.
Whereas -- not to be a drama queen, but my life (not only this year but for the last year or two) has been, well, more along these lines:
If you haven't seen the BBC's Brideshead Revisited, you are also wrong. So very, very wrong.
And that doesn't feel honest to me. It doesn't feel honest to write only one half of the contradiction I find myself living.
Nor is contradiction too strong a word. I literally cannot make sense out of the two halves of my life -- gay and Catholic -- and I cannot let go of either one of them. In fact it sort of feels wrong even to try to let go of either one of them; as if to do so would be to decline the problem of life that God has set before me, for whatever reason.
I've been trying, once again, to read Fear and Trembling, in which Kierkegaard lays out his idea of the Knight of Faith. This knight, whose desire for ideal joy cannot be fulfilled, resigns himself to that fact, accepts that he cannot have ideal joy -- and then, without abandoning that resignation, nevertheless believes that he will get it, because with God all things are possible. I had always thought that, in their insistence on contradictions, the Existentialists were talking nonsense. I am less sure of that now. My experiences of the last year, living in a state of interior contradiction -- continually expecting either that my faith will transfigure my sexuality, or that my sexuality will cast out my faith; and yet neither one happens -- I've been reminded of Charles Williams' words about Kierkegaard in his 1939 book The Descent of the Dove:
'He was the type of the new state of things in which Christendom had to exist, and of the new mind with which Christendom knew them. He lived under a sense of judgment, of contrition, of asceticism; but also (and equally) of revolt, of refusal, of unbelief. Almost always before his days one of these two things had triumphed over the other; or if not, if there had been others like him, then their words had been so lightly read that it was supposed that one had triumphed. No doubt, as soon as Kierkegaard becomes fashionable, which is already beginning to happen, that fate will fall upon him. He will be explained; the other half of him (whichever that may be) will be excused. ... Most Christian answers to agnosticism seem not to begin to understand the agnosticism; they seem to invoke the compassion of God. In Kierkegaard one feels that God does not understand that kind of compassion.'
Most of my Catholic friends, I imagine, would tell me -- some of them have told me -- simply not to identify as gay. You're not gay, that isn't your identity; your identity is a man and a child of God, and you happen to be same-sex attracted, that's all. I'm tempted to answer, You can put a bow on a pig and call it Alice, but it's still going to get mud in the house if you let it in. I call myself gay because my feelings and experiences are, in point of fact, different from those of heterosexuals -- who, I note, are never similarly challenged for the equally identifying language, 'I'm straight.' Using a different phrase will change neither my experiences nor my feelings.
I understand the message they actually want to send, but frankly, I find it pointless at best and mendacious at worst. Regarding my sexuality as some kind of extraneous part of me, as though it doesn't really have anything to do with who I am as a person -- that is not a life-giving thing to tell someone, and it does nothing to change the experience of being gay; except maybe to add the burden that what is, often, an agony of loneliness and repeated failures is unimportant to other people and should be unimportant to me too.
Most of my queer and allied friends, on the other hand, would tell me to drop the Catholic side of the contradiction -- or, at least, to reject the Church's teaching on the subject. Lots of Catholics do. But I can't do that. I converted to Catholicism because I believe it, and I cannot simply decide what I do and don't believe; there is an element of decision in belief, yes, but looking at the facts as honestly as I can has to come first. And those facts led me to the Catholic Church -- a journey I'll discuss in later posts. For now, I'll have to ask you just to accept that Catholicism is, as far as I can see, the only honest conclusion I can come to. And if I trust God to guide the Catholic Church, it doesn't make sense to add caveats on the grounds that I don't like a doctrine or find it hard to bear. The martyrs found martyrdom hard to bear, and I'll take a guess and say that at least several of the martyrs did not specially enjoy being martyred.
It is that lived contradiction that I want to communicate here, especially to my fellow Catholics. There is a notion abroad, especially among young, zealous believers, that if you just accept the Church's teaching about chastity you will find it life-giving, inevitably. It is the 'inevitably' that makes this belief naive, and naive beliefs are dangerous. It is this sort of faith that makes atheists and apostates -- nor, to be blunt, can I blame atheists and apostates, as many Catholics seem willing to. Oh, they just don't have faith. No, they don't. (Or not as far as we can see -- never forgetting that we are, in theory anyway, the ones who believe that Man looketh on the outward appearance, but God upon the heart.) But I am living the contradiction that makes the atheist scoff and the apostate rebel, and it's not contemptible, and it's not funny. By this I do not mean to pay any compliment to myself: I don't like it, I wouldn't do it if I knew how to either leave my faith behind or actually become a saint, instead of remaining in a sort of spiritual demimonde; it is by definition a falling short of the standards of both Catholic and queer orthodoxy. But, while I believe Catholicism, I sympathize with agnosticism and philosophical revolt, and I do not understand the sort of compassion that fails to understand that.
I have been reflecting lately on a text from Job, near the end, when God has answered Job's imprecations against Him with terrifying riddles, and Job has accepted the Divine rebuke. God then says that His anger burns against Job's friends. The ones who were telling Job that he was in the wrong, that he had to repent and confess whatever sin he was, clearly, guilty of. And God's anger burned against their defense of Him. I don't know why; but I sometimes think that it had something to do with their refusal to acknowledge the reality of another human being's experience on the grounds that it didn't fit neatly into their theology. I often think that the tidy pieties of Christians may be met with the frightening rebuke, The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.
I have no doubt that some of my friends would, and possibly will, tell me that I should have continued blogging the way I was doing: that I was sharing great insights about theology, that discussing my imperfections and uncertainties will be a source of scandal, that my personal struggles are no one else's business, blah blah blah. Forgive me for being very tired of that sort of talk, to the point that it makes me a little angry. Personal struggles should not be out of place in church. That is one of the things that makes people leave the Church. And what good is theology itself, unleavened by life? 'I would rather feel contrition than be able to define it.' Man does not live by word alone; the Sacrament Itself consists not only of the flat, tasteless, colorless Body, but of the scarlet and intoxicating Blood. As for scandal, the one and only scandal in the Church that really disgusts me is the scandalous idea that it is appropriate to be dishonest -- which was made horrifyingly manifest in the scandal that made such juicy headlines. I think that, if people are drawn to the Catholic faith by anything I write, it will be because I was telling the whole truth. I will whitewash nothing, for if I do, it will only be my own sepulcher.
Your flavor in my mind goes back and forth between
Sweeter than any wine, as bitter as mustard greens