Saturday, November 2, 2013

Raw Tact, Part X: Agony, Ecstasy

I've been struggling a lot with depression over the past few weeks. What would have been my anniversary with my ex-boyfriend came up late last month; work has been running me into the ground; and I'm feeling like a real moral no-show -- alternating fits between unchastity and anger, with the occasional nervous breakdown for flavor.


Regrettably, adorable drunk lesbians formed no part of any of this angst.

2013 has been a rough year: a dear friend of our family died, my youngest nephew was born nearly two months premature, one of my sisters had to have her thyroid removed, my car (as of today) is in the shop for the third time in six months, Brett Ratner is still alive.* One of the things I've found disappointing and disconcerting is that, in all of this, my main focus has been on Me: My pain, My loneliness, My holiness, not only in contrast to all the suffering people all around me (that is, everybody), but even in contrast to my family and my friends. In one sense I take that to be a good thing -- I mean, that I'm increasingly aware of my selfishness. Saint John of the Cross says that one of the illuminations Divine grace gives us is an awareness of our imperfections, so that it seems at first as though we are losing ground, simply because we're seeing shortcomings that had escaped our notice before. "Dark with excessive bright Thy skirts appear," Milton says of God somewhere in Paradise Lost** -- the light is so brilliant that, until our eyes adjust, it causes blindness rather than sight. At least, I sure hope that's what's happening.

The question of why I would remain a Catholic through all of this, when I could greatly simplify things by, at the least, renouncing the Church's teaching on sexuality, has been posed to me more than once -- not only by others but by me. The simplest answer is that I'm persuaded that the Catholic faith is true, and with that comes the conviction that the Magisterium is reliable. Any dissent from the substance of her teaching on my part would be intellectually inconsistent, and, for someone built like I am, knowingly engaging in intellectual inconsistency would be the height of dishonor. I can be a whore, and that's one thing; but being a liar -- that would be a far deeper violation. It would remove the conditions by which I am able to sin and still repent, and I need those to function as a Christian. Even, perhaps, to function as a man.

"You think a wife might feel sensitive about her husband's honor -- even if it were sacrificed on her account?" said Miss Stevens. "Well -- I don't know."
"I should think," said Miss Chilperic, stammering a little in her earnestness, "she would feel like a man who -- I mean, wouldn't it be like living on somebody's immoral earnings?"
"There," said Peter, "if I may say so, I think you are exaggerating. The man who does that -- if he isn't too far gone to have any feelings at all -- is hit by other considerations, some of which have nothing whatever to do with ethics. But it is extremely interesting that you should make the comparison." He looked at Miss Chilperic so intently that she blushed.
"Perhaps that was rather a stupid thing to say."
"No. But if it ever occurs to people to value the honor of the mind equally with the honor of the body, we shall get a social revolution of a quite unparalleled sort -- and very different from the kind that is being made at the moment."***

But there's something else going on, too. Something I don't understand, except that I sense its presence, and it is not simply intellectual; it's deeper than that (by which I don't mean it is emotional -- as important as emotions are, they are not more core to a person than the mind, just different). I certainly haven't got the strength, and don't know whether I will receive the grace, to continue on the path of celibacy. But, deep within, something is happening -- God is doing something in the dark.

Man, this guy. He really knew what was up.

Why remain here in the dark -- without hope of marriage or children or earthly happiness or simple rest? So many answers pop up, even within the doctrinal framework I accept, that I just can't espouse: like You could still get married some day, or Everyone experiences loneliness, but it passes, or Celibacy is a beautiful gift from God -- you can do so many things as a celibate that married people can't, or You can adopt, you know, or ... the mind swims in a sea of meaningless encouragements. 

Meaningless, not because any of them aren't true in fact, but because none of them are what I want. When a man wants water, explaining to him that he can have as much steak as he likes is not likely to console his thirst. And what I want is a husband.


And that, on Catholic premises, I cannot have. Not even "am not allowed to." It just plain isn't possible.

I'm sure (on the basis of my theology) that there is some -- how can I put this -- some legitimate meaning in that desire, which I can have; but I don't really know what it is. I have for many years repudiated the ex-gay explanation that it is a confused mixture of the desires for a father, for male friends, and for a wife (because when you put all those roles in a blender, a husband comes out, obviously). Yet in this confusion and uncertainty, I can sense something happening, some activity of God's. I don't get it, and I don't sense it all the time -- in fact, more often than not, I'm simply unhappy. But when I do sense it, it is unmistakeable.

It would be very easy to interpret all this as comforting self-delusion, built to protect me from the vulnerability of a relationship or the risk of questioning my theology. Given that I'm a convert to Rome who passed through Calvinism, atheism, and witchcraft first, and that I've had gay relationships and gay sex, I do not find that way of reading the facts convincing; but you could read them that way if you insisted. What is at least equally interesting is that one can put the shoe on the other foot and read a lot of the LGBT movement as showing signs of an elaborate evasion of God**** -- not so much in its deviation from traditional morality or the explicit irreligion of some of its members, but rather, in its determined exaltation of romantic love as something almost like salvation. And that, I think, is something that a lot of us can sympathize with, gay or straight. Apart from Divine grace, it is called "idolatry," which is open to people of both sexes and all sexualities. With grace, such love can become something more like an icon of salvation, a means of approaching the Creator through the created -- as Dante did with Beatrice.

But I digress. (Maybe.) The point is, such suffering, and being in the dark about it, are not necessarily signs that God is absent, or uncaring, or trying to nudge me to go in a different direction. Christ Himself, in His agony in Gethsemane, shows us that. What God is doing, I don't know, and I don't know what comes next, nor how I will fall and fail. But my faith is in Him and not myself; if He knows, then the person who chiefly needs to know knows. Consoling? Occasionally. The point, whether consoling or not? Yes.

And when I do feel it, when I do receive consolations --




*Yes I'm still angry; the franchise started so well with X1 and X2, whatever their fridge-logic flaws. And then X3 was -- well, "Everyone says forgiveness is wonderful, until they have something to forgive," C. S. Lewis said.

**I don't know where, because the only place I recall reading this line is in Lewis' Preface to Paradise Lost -- oddly, though I have very little taste for Milton, I find Lewis so engaging as a literary critic that I read his commentary over and over again, at least once a year.

***Gaudy Night, pp. 376-377, by Dorothy Sayers, who was incomparably wonderful in all the ways. This is one of my favorite novels, of hers or anybody's, and gave me a clarity about the interplay of heart with intellect and about discernment that I have never gleaned from any deliberately spiritual manual.

****It should go without saying (but regrettably doesn't) that this would not apply to those Christians who, for theological reasons, take a different view of sexuality, like Justin Lee or Matthew Vines. That is also an important dimension of gay-Christian interaction; but it is a different one.

72 comments:

  1. ** Book 3, Line 380. Sorry, this is what you get being friends with a professional Miltonist. You're lucky I didn't write a little essay on the line down here.

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  2. "The question of why I would remain a Catholic through all of this, when I could greatly simplify things by, at the least, renouncing the Church's teaching on sexuality, has been posed to me more than once -- not only by others but by me."

    I'm sorry, but with only your own well-being in mind, I have to suggest that you may be in something like "bad faith" here.

    To construct your situation as "I want a gay sexual relationship but if I did that I'd have to suffer from cognitive dissonance, so I'm damned if I do, damned if I don't...so I am miserable and promiscuous" doesn't exactly strike me as the logic of someone who "owns" their own life and own happiness, who is taking real adult existential responsibility.

    It also just seems rather absurd, this idea that "desire for a gay marriage + believing its wrong = promiscuity" as if that outcome makes sense as some sort of "averaging" of the tension of the opposite vectors of the two ideas or something like that.

    You really think all your problems are caused by some abstract ideas? Ideas that, even more curiously, apparently aren't even powerful enough in your head to actually cause you to successfully enact them? (But merely to cause you to violate them in a more dangerous, more fragmented, more immature way??)

    I don't know what your priests have been telling you, but I don't think there is anything "better," even from a spiritual perspective that assumes gay sex is wrong, about simply compartmentalizing it so that it remains un-integrated (and thus, when it happens, always a violent "interruption") in your selfhood. If you're going to be doing it all the time for the foreseeable future anyway, doing it in a stable context, at least, surely seems better?

    I have to ask why the popular definition of stupidity/insanity ("Doing things the same way and expecting a different outcome") doesn't apply to the moral life here? Do you really think your 999th attempt at abstinence will suddenly come out in a new surprising way, different than the 998th time?

    Yes, yes, there is "grace" that could give you a "deus ex machina" deliverance at any time. And sure there are cliches and platitudes about how the endless failure teaches humility or whatever (but when will you know, how many times will it take, until you consider yourself to have truly learned that lesson?)

    But maybe you need to try something new. And maybe if, as you claim, you have tried every possible thing you can "within the box" and not found a solution...it means the answer is, in fact, outside that box.

    God promises a way. He doesn't necessarily promise a way within the boundaries of our own artificially imposed constraints.

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    1. I realize these three comments are rather of a piece, but, to help me stay on topic, I'm replying to them individually. (I'm not certain I'm following your remarks perfectly, so please pardon any errors I make.)

      Given that I don't recollect speaking about damnation -- as a consequence of homosexuality or anything else -- at any point on this blog, I'm not sure how the possibility of my being damned (or anybody else's) comes into this.

      As to bad faith and existential responsibility, I'm pretty puzzled that I give you the impression of evading them. I don't accept the (apparent) premise that responsibility and authenticity should be viewed through an exclusively Existential lens, but I am influenced by the Existentialists, especially Kierkegaard; and my insistence on maintaining both halves of the paradox I find myself in -- gay and Catholic -- is precisely an endeavor to keep complete "good faith" with myself. To reject the Church's doctrine would, for me personally, be quite as much in bad faith as pretending to be straight. I suffer from cognitive dissonance in any case, but that isn't specifically linked to having a boyfriend -- actually I had rather less when I was in a relationship than when I've been outside of one, so that, if that were my only goal, I wouldn't be going about it in this way.

      To the extent that promiscuity is an element of my life (an extent I don't really feel comfortable defining here, which is why I used the vaguer though appropriate word "unchastity"), I most certainly wouldn't defend it as making sense or being safe; neither did I wish to give the impression that I would consider a gay relationship to be morally worse. Quite the converse. The reason I am not now seeking a relationship is because I feel called, whether permanently or for the time being, to attempt celibacy -- not because I think it would be morally worse for me to sleep with one man rather than many, and to do in a humanized fashion rather than a semi-animal one (ideas that I find as nonsensical as you do, I assure you).

      As for what I'll always be doing -- I don't claim to know that. And no, I don't expect my 999th attempt at chastity to be markedly different from my 998th attempt. The fact that my failures can have a serious impact on other men's lives, as well as my own, is one of the things that gives me pause for thought about whether this attempt at celibacy will be permanent, and it is the reason that I abandoned the attempt before.

      But I also don't consider my failure or success to be what determines whether chastity is *worth* pursuing -- not even if it wears me down so much that it does, in fact, persuade me to cease pursuing a chastity I still believed in principle was worthwhile. God does promise a way, yes; a way that is not necessarily within our boundaries, yes; more specifically, He promises that "Any man that would be My disciple must deny Himself, take up his cross, and follow me." In other words, He promises, among other things, that following Him will be something like being beaten to death in a concentration camp. There is a great deal more to it than that, obviously, but I think we must not be astounded if it does sometimes reveal itself in such a form. It did in Jesus.

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    2. "Given that I don't recollect speaking about damnation -- as a consequence of homosexuality or anything else -- at any point on this blog, I'm not sure how the possibility of my being damned (or anybody else's) comes into this."

      "Damned if you do, damned if you don't" is a figurative expression that isn't talking about literal damnation but rather about being caught between a rock and a hard place, or in a Catch-22.

      "As to bad faith and existential responsibility, I'm pretty puzzled that I give you the impression of evading them. I don't accept the (apparent) premise that responsibility and authenticity should be viewed through an exclusively Existential lens, but I am influenced by the Existentialists, especially Kierkegaard; and my insistence on maintaining both halves of the paradox I find myself in -- gay and Catholic -- is precisely an endeavor to keep complete 'good faith' with myself."

      Someone in good faith does not speak as if circumstances are somehow dictating their life and happiness. As far as I can tell, you have completely renounced your own agency here. There are these "ideas," this "logic" of Catholic Faith...that "compel" you to think and feel a certain way. On the other hand, there is this "homosexuality" that compels you to feel (and so, in some way or other, act) in a certain way. And the two things, both constructed as outside your agency as circumstances external to your selfhood...are forcing you into a corner. Nope. You could tomorrow become Anglican if you wanted. You could tomorrow stop sleeping around. You could tomorrow decide to be a cafeteria Catholic. You could tomorrow renounce any worry about following a relationship organically while simultaneously having an organic relationship with the Church (and seeing what sort of model emerged there in terms of living with confession, etc)

      Instead, it's all "No, I just couldn't do any of that, the cognitive dissonance would be too much" or on the other hand "The loneliness is too much," etc etc.

      Desires are not something external to our self that we are simply at the mercy of (and which can trap us in the middle of their conflicts with each other). If you own your desires and your choice about what you want (and we do choose what we want, at least in the second-order sense) then we are not at the mercy of anything.

      Bad faith is, essentially, denying your own radical freedom. You can be whatever you want. "If you want to sing out, out sing out...and if you want to live high, live high, and if you want to live low, live low." Your whole discourse here has been, basically, wallowing about what a horrible Catch-22 you find yourself in based on the terrible choice you feel compelled to make between spiritual integrity and other sorts of fulfillment. But it's you who has chosen to subject yourself to the premises of the alleged conflict, and you could choose to walk away any moment you wanted. If you choose to stay, if that's your fully-self-aware good-faith choice...then you should be happy. If there is no self-deception or denial of agency here, you wouldn't be whining about the horrible double-bind the universe has put you in. No one has put you in any double bind but you yourself through a series of value-choices that seemed to designed to cause you misery. I'm not saying drop the Catholic for the gay, or the gay for the Catholic...but something's gotta give in some fashion. The tension here is palpable. But you hold the keys to your own psychic prison.

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    3. "Quite the converse. The reason I am not now seeking a relationship is because I feel called, whether permanently or for the time being, to attempt celibacy -- not because I think it would be morally worse for me to sleep with one man rather than many, and to do in a humanized fashion rather than a semi-animal one (ideas that I find as nonsensical as you do, I assure you)."

      What the hell does "attempt" mean? Can you give a cognitively meaningful definition that makes any sense given your current self-reported moral/spiritual situation?? Yoda was right: you do, or do not. There is no "try."

      If "attempting celibacy" means a cycle of fragmented hook-ups followed by guilt, repentance, a gradual build up of tension, maintaining a denial-dance of "No, no, I won't" all while slipping towards the next fall but not admitting it until it's too late (a dance that can be more titillating than anything, really; trust me, I understand that), and then repeating that cycle again and again...I fail to see the value in "attempting." If "attempting" isn't "doing"...you're doing it wrong, and it's valueless, nothing but an exercise in bad faith.

      I can "try" to lift a box and it can be to heavy. But when we're talking about our own free-choices for godsakes...speaking of "trying" doesn't even make sense. You either make a choice or you don't, simple as that. There is no "trying" when it comes to choosing. "I tried to choose to not steal...but I just couldnt!" What, as if some external force possessed you and caused you to steal??? Mauvais foi, plain and simple. All manner of addiction would be much easier to deal with people if we recognized this as a society. "I couldn't quit heroin, the withdrawl pains were too intense!" Okay, so you CHOSE to value lack-of-pain over being free of the drug. Don't blame anyone else for that, because other people have done otherwise by simply their choice of what to value more.

      "But I also don't consider my failure or success to be what determines whether chastity is 'worth' pursuing"

      No, but once again, define "pursuing." A cycle of "I'm not gonna do it, not gonna do it. Not. Gonna. Doooo....oh shit! I need sex!!!!" is about as futile for spiritual growth as a child trying to hold their breath forever. If you're going to do it, then you'd best be about it! Do it! You have free will. I fail to see how any sincere "pursuit" involves continuing to hook-up, as if that's some sort of "accident" that happens. If that keeps happening, it suggests to me that there's a problem with your whole construction of agency.

      "In other words, He promises, among other things, that following Him will be something like being beaten to death in a concentration camp. There is a great deal more to it than that, obviously, but I think we must not be astounded if it does sometimes reveal itself in such a form. It did in Jesus."

      Yes, but I wonder which would be more of a Crucifixion to you: remaining in the self-enclosed mental world you've ensconced yourself in, or having to undergo the (yes, very painful! Trust me) process of growing out of the safety and comfort of this towards taking full existential responsibility for yourself.

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    4. If I am right in understanding you to be saying that a person in good faith is constrained by no external circumstances, and will inevitably be happy with whatever they choose, then frankly, I don't think there is any such thing. Circumstances constrain everyone's life, and not all desires are fulfillable. For example, I can't fly, despite having wanted to since I was a kid. If I'm misconstruing you here, then naturally I solicit correction.

      To take the example you cite of becoming an Anglican. I could do it, in the sense that it is not intrinsically impossible. But I couldn't do it and mean it, because I don't think Anglicanism is true (not where it conflicts with Catholicism, that is), and surely if any act were in bad faith, it would be that?

      And as to agency, I fail to see how simply being in pain and saying so constitutes a refusal of responsibility. Catholicism exists quite independently of me, and, whatever else I can control, I cannot control what the Catholic faith says. I find the case for trusting the Catholic Church convincing enough that the only sincere course of action (though not the only logically possible course of action, or the only way I could ever exercise my freedom) is to be a Catholic Christian; that brings with it the beliefs that I hold about sexuality, too. To refuse those beliefs because I find them difficult or unpleasant would indeed be an act of bad faith: it would be going back on the decision that I had made to follow my investigations where they led me to the best of my ability. And, while that may be a possible thing to do, I couldn't do it and mean it. And what, done without meaning it, is worth doing?

      "Attempt" means "attempt." It means I do not know whether I will succeed, because my will is very weak, and I can't predict the future. Yoda's dictum there, as it happens, struck me as both cruel and silly from the first time I heard it, and I can't say I have come to find it any more persuasive in the intervening years. If a person is to be judged exclusively by what they do, and if by this we mean whether they succeed, then literally everyone who does not succeed is put in the category of people who aren't even trying. Is that what we are to say to the heroin addict who's trying to quit -- that he hasn't succeeded because he isn't actually doing it, and that all claims of trying on his part are insincere evasions? Is there a better recipe for producing despair?

      I can readily accept the view that I am a good deal more to blame than the heroin addict; but my point is that that way of looking at the question seems to me heartless -- and also false to the facts. People are subject to all kinds of physical and psychological influences upon their desires and behavior, influences that they cannot control completely, and sometimes can scarcely control at all. That is why we speak of addictions, phobias, compulsions, and the like. If you simply don't believe that there are any such things, then I honestly don't know what to say, except that that is one of several reasons I have for not espousing the philosophy of Sartre.

      People do things by trying to do them and eventually succeeding. Sometimes the trying is so practiced, or so intrinsically easy, that we don't notice it; we are so accustomed to success at walking, for example, that we mostly don't need to try on any conscious level. But the same could not be said of us when we were infants: we learned to walk precisely by trying and failing to do so, over and over. (Again, if I am simply mistaking your meaning about any of this, then I ask clarification.)

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    5. In short, if the contention here is that we are to despise everybody who ever lives out of accord with their convictions or goals, we are going to despise everybody, and I decline to do that. I'd be highly distrustful of any claims to live in perfect fulfillment of one's principles and desires. For one thing, we all have too many competing desires to fulfill them all, if only for practical reasons; for another, if someone professes to have achieved their moral ideals perfectly, their moral ideals probably aren't the sort I'd want. I want a morality that challenges me to become better than I am, and that, by definition, means a morality that I have not yet succeeded in practicing perfectly.

      I'm not claiming that hooking up is itself part of a sincere pursuit of chastity (celibate or wedded). Plainly it isn't. What I am saying is that I, and all who find themselves struggling and sometimes failing to live as they wish to in this regard, need not be classified as liars simply because we sometimes fail.

      As for what would be more of a crucifixion ... Well, considering how much more comfortable I was when I did not believe what the Church does about homosexuality, I'd tend to answer that this is more of a crucifixion. But if we are to speak of taking responsibility for ourselves, I think my refusal to say that the Church is wrong and my insistence that it is my actions that are questionable, do represent my taking responsibility for myself. I don't find this mental world safe and comforting -- if I did, I would not write this way. Faith in God is extremely risky; "He's not a tame Lion." I don't adopt these principles for fun, I do them out of a desire to be honest, and to follow the facts where they lead me; that is what the series I wrote titled "All Roads Lead To" was about, back in May.

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    6. "To take the example you cite of becoming an Anglican. I could do it, in the sense that it is not intrinsically impossible. But I couldn't do it and mean it, because I don't think Anglicanism is true (not where it conflicts with Catholicism, that is), and surely if any act were in bad faith, it would be that?"

      You're speaking as if "what you think is true" is some thing that you have no control over. Especially when it comes to meaning-making systems (ie, truth) rather than material "facts"...we believe this or that is true based on its consonance with our values. But we choose our values. You might value a certain type of logic and so find Catholicism is the best fit. But plenty of people value other sorts of instincts and those instincts imply other sorts of conclusions.

      "And as to agency, I fail to see how simply being in pain and saying so constitutes a refusal of responsibility. Catholicism exists quite independently of me, and, whatever else I can control, I cannot control what the Catholic faith says."

      No. But you can control the fact that you CARE what it says (or, even more to the point, HOW that "caring" concretely manifests itself in your life.) You choose to value what they're saying.

      "I find the case for trusting the Catholic Church convincing enough that the only sincere course of action (though not the only logically possible course of action, or the only way I could ever exercise my freedom) is to be a Catholic Christian"

      Sincerity is a question of authenticity to your values. I don't doubt that Catholicism is convincing to you and represents the sincere playing out of your values. What I doubt is that this all simply came from nowhere as if some other agency put constraints on you such that you can only be happy in certain circumstances, even though there are obviously many happy people in the world who are not Catholic, etc etc. What is stopping you from being like them? The answer can only be something within your self (and thus, that you are responsible for). Why are they not all overwhelmed by the same cognitive dissonance or whatever?

      "I couldn't do it and mean it."

      Yes, you could. That's the bad faith right there. We are free to make any meaning we want in our life. We are free to value or give value and meaning to anything, and any value, and any meaning.

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    7. "It means I do not know whether I will succeed, because my will is very weak, and I can't predict the future."

      Your will is weak? What does this mean. Is the will something other than yourself, like a tool that can be more or less powerful? The will is not an instrument of ourselves, it is our self. If we make a choice, it means we want to make it. The way you're speaking it's as if the will is some external thing, like a dog on a leash, that can disobey you or something. No, there is no dog, no leash, there is only you.

      "If a person is to be judged exclusively by what they do, and if by this we mean whether they succeed, then literally everyone who does not succeed is put in the category of people who aren't even trying. Is that what we are to say to the heroin addict who's trying to quit -- that he hasn't succeeded because he isn't actually doing it, and that all claims of trying on his part are insincere evasions? Is there a better recipe for producing despair?"

      I would distinguishing between trying to accomplish external goals, and moral goals. For moral goals, yes, there is no "try." A heroin addict isn't "trying." If they make a choice to keep doing it, then THEY made that choice, and need to own the agency for the fact that they decided in that moment to choose pleasure over healing. They weren't "trying" at that moment...it was at that moment that they decided, with a free and deliberate choice, to STOP "trying." There is no try because you are either abstaining successfully...or you're indulging. And there is no sense, during the indulgence itself, in which you are "trying."

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    8. "People are subject to all kinds of physical and psychological influences upon their desires and behavior, influences that they cannot control completely, and sometimes can scarcely control at all. That is why we speak of addictions, phobias, compulsions, and the like. If you simply don't believe that there are any such things, then I honestly don't know what to say, except that that is one of several reasons I have for not espousing the philosophy of Sartre."

      External circumstances only change the circumstances. Yes, someone exposed to little pain will find it easier to do something than for someone who faces a lot. The latter is forced to prioritize whatever their goal is much higher than pain-avoidance, while the former can achieve their goal while still keeping pain-avoidance as a pretty high priority. But so what? The point is that both are still entirely free to make the goal a greater priority than avoiding the pain. Our wills are free, they are not coerced. We are never really under duress internally. Guy says "Do this or I'll shoot you"...you can choose to be shot if you choose to value whatever principle over your own life. The question is will you? If not, that's perfectly fine, just own that prioritization, don't pretend like you're the sort of person who would.

      Like I said, I'm not trying to get you to renounce your religion. But you need to admit that, in spite of protests to the contrary, it is not most important thing to you to the degree which you might like, and that's a choice you make. I'm pretty sure you'd avoid sex if you had a bomb strapped to you that would kill you if you had it. You value your life more than sex. But don't claim that you value your spiritual integrity, conceived in the orthodox Catholic sense, so highly...because clearly you don't. If you did, the effects would be manifest. If you really loved heaven and feared hell as much as you might be inclined to say, then it would be like having that bomb strapped to you that would stop you from giving anything else priority even momentarily.

      Your analogy about an infant learning to walk breaks down, because we are not talking about controlling the external world (including our body; I'm not saying you could choose not to vomit or have a seizure, for example), but about the will controlling ITSELF. The child wants to walk, there is no ambivalence there, only the body is uncooperative. But in your case you're trying to say something like "the will is not cooperating with itself" or that "I am not doing what I want." Psh, that's just nonsense, and involves externalizing your very selfhood. We always do what we want, that's just definitional.

      But I even just think in my own life. What is harder? For the alcoholic to give up drink? Or for the self-righteous teetotaller to give up their abstinence (or even, if they already occasionally "fall") to give up their guilt? Very often, it is the latter which is the greater act of humiliation. Lots of people get off on guilt.

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    9. It appears to me that your essential complaint about me is that I am not an Existentialist -- that I do not agree with you in the first place that meaning and value are created entirely from within. I deny that particular Existentialist idea; while taking a high view of the interplay between freedom and personal vocation, I think that meaning is something that comes from outside of us, something not created by us -- like existence itself, for we did not bring ourselves into being. In other words (if I am recollecting the meaning of the terms correctly), I altogether deny the claim that existence precedes essence, and assert that it is essence which precedes existence.

      You may slander my character and think me a fool as much as you please. But the view of reality that you are positing does in fact contradict my Catholicism, completely, because the philosophical element of the Catholic faith does affirm two things which you appear categorically to reject: first, that the human will is influenced by a multitude of things that constrain its freedom, though that freedom is not eliminated; and second, that meaning is something that exists independently of ourselves, something into which we are created, not just something that we invent for ourselves. The former of these makes room for patience, compassion, and gentleness; the latter, for a healthy agnosticism about the conscience and sincerity of others.

      A strictly Existentialist approach to meaning is something that I, at any rate, could not even find interesting -- I would think and feel that I was simply making things up, which had no bearing on reality. And, apart from my philosophical objections to that way of approaching life, it strikes me a cruelly dull.

      Now, if the debate here is frankly one between an Existential view of meaning and a Catholic one, very well. But let us be clear that that is what the debate is about. If, however, you propose to treat me with contempt because I don't live in accord with your philosophical principles, principles that I do not accept in the first instance -- or if you propose simply by stating those principles (without making a case for them) to convert me to them -- then I confess I don't really see the point of the conversation.

      I have not spent time in this particular post laying out that philosophical case for Christian faith to which I have frequently referred here in the comments: partly because I hadn't anticipated this turn of conversation; partly because I have the impression that most of my audience is Christian, and therefore doesn't demand continual proofs and re-proofs; partly because I have done so, a little, in other places here on the blog, as I mentioned. Considering space constraints and relevance to the topic of the post, I'm reluctant to go into great detail about that here -- it is the sort of thing that can easily take weeks even to explain, let alone go into point by point -- but, as I've said before, my e-mail is available on the sidebar, and there are several books that deal with the matter more intelligently than I can: Pope Benedict XVI's "Introduction to Christianity," Msgr. Ronald Knox's "The Belief of Catholics" (though rather palpably pre-conciliar), the "Handbook of Catholic Apologetics" of Fr. Ronald Tacelli SJ and Peter Kreeft, "The Everlasting Man" by G. K. Chesterton, and the assorted apologetic works of C. S. Lewis (particularly "Mere Christianity," "The Problem of Pain," and "Miracles") all being good examples.

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    10. "It appears to me that your essential complaint about me is that I am not an Existentialist -- that I do not agree with you in the first place that meaning and value are created entirely from within etc etc"

      Yes, of course. To believe that is "bad faith" and to me it is quite obvious. Because people who DO own their meaning-making actually ACT differently, whereas so many essentialists flounder about in contradictory actions crying "poor me." The minute people take responsibility for their own actions...they change, and you can feel it in talking to them and being around them. It's not just philosophical theory, it's basically a psychological reality. Likewise, when people don't own their agency, they spend a lot of time "wondering" why the hell they keep "slipping up" and disappointing themselves...it's mystification and obfuscation pure and simple. There are no hidden causes, no spiritual conspiracy: there is only you and your choices. The sooner you own it, the sooner you will change. In whatever direction you want! Not necessarily renouncing Catholicism, not necessarily anything like that (an "existentialist Catholicism" is very possible...) That's the irony of it, really, you'd actually be MORE likely to be chaste, if that's what you chose, if you owned it and constructed things in the existential non-self-deluding way than continuing to build intellectual barricades to deny your own freedom.

      "because the philosophical element of the Catholic faith does affirm two things which you appear categorically to reject: first, that the human will is influenced by a multitude of things that constrain its freedom"

      Existentialists do not deny "facticity."

      "The former of these makes room for patience, compassion, and gentleness; the latter, for a healthy agnosticism about the conscience and sincerity of others."

      But, mostly, they make room for an unhealthy agnosticism about ones OWN responsibility.

      A bunch of pathetic people can sit around and commiserate and talk to each other and cry together and lean on each others' shoulders about how helpless they all are and call it compassion if they want. But I call it a "pity party." Mutual appreciation society, really, and one big circle jerk.

      "If, however, you propose to treat me with contempt because I don't live in accord with your philosophical principles, principles that I do not accept in the first instance -- or if you propose simply by stating those principles (without making a case for them) to convert me to them -- then I confess I don't really see the point of the conversation."

      Because someday you'll have a crisis, you'll truly hit rock bottom, and then you'll remember that I've said these things. I'm not trying to convince you now, that's not how people work (that's another bad faith delusion; this idea that anyone is ever convinced by arguments or apologetics). But one can provide people with ideas that, later, like planks floating in the wreck of the Titanic, they can grasp onto when the time comes for them to need them.

      I don't have contempt for theory. Theory is not the sort of thing one can find contemptuous. Contempt applies to character (it's just that, in fact, all theory is actually an emanation from character).

      "I have not spent time in this particular post laying out that philosophical case for Christian faith"

      I'm entirely uninterested in "philosophical cases." I'm much more interested in psychological cases. That's the real "mover" in the world of human behavior. Ideology, right or wrong, is a big red herring when it comes to identifying causation for anything.

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  3. "And that, on Catholic premises, I cannot have. Not even 'am not allowed to.' It just plain isn't possible."

    Please. Desires are not for abstractions. Desires are for very concrete visions. The Church might (rightly, even) not recognize the sort of relationship you want to have as "the same thing" as a man and woman in potentially procreative union have.

    But surely your primary desire isn't for some sort of abstract equivalence to something else you don't want (ie, a heterosexual relationship) but simply for the concrete daily realities of having a partnership with another man and the concrete recognition of that relationship by your family, the community, etc.

    And, obviously, that concrete vision is not impossible. It's not like, in terms of the concrete visions, you're imagining "a square circle"...or you couldn't even imagine it to begin with! You have a very concrete vision of what you want, I'm sure, and your problem isn't that it is in practice impossible, it's indeed that you think it is not allowed or justified by a certain framework.

    I mean, c'mon, it's not like you imagine getting pregnant by your husband (or, if you do, then it's not just the Church telling you that's impossible, but empirical science too!!)

    "It would be very easy to interpret all this as comforting self-delusion, built to protect me from the vulnerability of a relationship or the risk of questioning my theology. Given that I'm a convert to Rome who passed through Calvinism, atheism, and witchcraft first, and that I've had gay relationships and gay sex, I do not find that way of reading the facts convincing"

    You don't think there are people who have relationships and sex lives who nevertheless are plagued with all sorts of self-sabotaging neuroses regarding them?? Please. One might even ask whether your very ambivalence and "journeying" isn't itself indicative of something deeper going on. I'm not saying it is; lots of young people "Seek" before settling on an identity, and maybe you really are settled now. But then why do come across as so unsettled? What's unsettling you?

    Watergate does not bother me. Does your conscience bother you? :P

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    1. I'm not saying that desires aren't concrete, though I'm not clear what difference you feel that makes. Your point about the desire for a partner, which is not precisely equivalent to the desire for a husband, is a good one; I think that I desire both -- indeed, being able to have children, and even specifically biological children, with another man is something that I find I want, and, yes, that is kind of out of court whatever perspective one takes.

      Naturally I'm aware that people who have relationships and sex lives have neuroses. I think it's impossible to live with your eyes open and not observe that neurosis is a highly democratic, equal-opportunity trait. My point in the remark you cite, though, was simply that ascribing my beliefs to a fear of altering my views and/or opening my heart to people (as people have sometimes done to me in the past) didn't seem, in my opinion, to be supported by the facts of my life; I don't believe I see the connection between that and what you go on to say.

      As for being unsettled, honestly, between my personal history and my struggling since childhood with depression, I don't really expect "settled" to be a state I arrive at any time in the foreseeable future.

      Does my conscience bother me? Of course. Anyone who says it doesn't is, to my mind, a liar, a sociopath, or an apparition of a departed Saint. But that's nothing to the purpose. Or if it is, I don't follow and need it to be explained to me.

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    2. "being able to have children, and even specifically biological children, with another man is something that I find I want, and, yes, that is kind of out of court whatever perspective one takes."

      Right. So don't go talking as if you're in some special bind because of your loyalty to the Church. No gay man can impregnate his partner or spouse, whatever label he puts on it.

      But, then, maybe you're ambivalent about your sexuality in general, even prior to any Catholic thoughts?

      (BTW, one of Sartre's main examples of bad faith was "the homosexual" who acted as if he simply had to be that sort of subjectivity and was put in a bind between a childless partnership or a loveless heterosexual "breeding" marriage. You could have both! "Oh, but I want it all in one package," or "society wouldn't approve"...well then there is no pleasing you! Then you're the person for whom, by your own choice, there is, for whatever reason, always an excuse for not being happy...)

      "As for being unsettled, honestly, between my personal history and my struggling since childhood with depression, I don't really expect 'settled' to be a state I arrive at any time in the foreseeable future."

      How deep in bad faith you are! You could be settled tomorrow! Just choose it! But you don't. And that's fine. But don't pretend like it isn't a choice, and don't complain about the choice YOU are making.

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    3. Ambivalent about my sexuality? Yes, probably. I certainly was when I was a Protestant -- far more so than since I converted; it wasn't until I had been a Catholic for three years that I was able genuinely to accept myself as a gay man, and it was certainly (however counterintuitively) because of Catholicism that I was able to do so: even looking at it from a strictly external perspective, it gave me an emotionally safe space to do so.

      My reluctance to adopt, which I've spoken about elsewhere here (if memory serves), actually has less to do with my views on the family and more to do with my suspicion that I would make a fairly lousy single dad. Since I'm not expecting to be partnered for the foreseeable future, at the very least, I would feel irresponsible adopting under the circumstances -- and indeed, from an entirely objective perspective, considering my financial situation, I'd be very irresponsible indeed to do so. If the Existential deduction from that is that I should simply choose to not want children, then I shall venture to call the Existential deduction a bit unrealistic. Since I don't consider myself beholden to Sartre's views of homosexuals or anything else, that doesn't greatly bother me.

      How deep in bad faith I am! Just choose to be settled! I shall be bold to suggest that you do not have depression? If you knew even just that from within, I suspect you would not be so confident in declaring a relative stranger to be thoroughly inauthentic. Since I have not described much of my personal history, or other reasons I might have for being distressed (having evidently missed -- for I would rather not accuse you of deliberately ignoring -- the extreme griefs and difficulties the year has laid on my whole family that I wrote about in this post), I will simply point out that it would cost you very little, and be more courteous, to give me and those like me the benefit of the doubt.

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    4. Oh yes, yes, pity the poor victim some more.

      The truth is, I used to be exactly like you. I was depressed, suicidal, self-injuring, feeling so victimized by the world, painted into a corner by a variety of self-imposed "ideas," etc etc.

      Then one day, at my lowest point, I whining to someone I actually respected and he slapped me (literally slapped me in the face!) and said "Snap out of it and grow up!" and told me to take f-ing responsibility for my own happiness and my own destiny and the meaning of my own life.

      And you know what? I did. And it was the day I became an adult and the day I was never "depressed" again (which is just a cultural construct of victimhood, really).

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    5. I was not asking for pity. I was asking for good manners.

      I'm very sorry that you experienced such excruciating pain; but the plain fact is that you know what I am like only as a computer screen personality. You know nothing about my depression or its causes except what I have chosen to share here, and to assume that what helped you will necessarily help me is not only rude, it is (more importantly) unwise, to the point of being potentially dangerous: people are too different for any single kind of counsel to work, and what helps one person may destroy another.

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    6. Ahhh! Please do not be mislead by this Sartrian boor! I can no longer sit idly by and accept this anonymous contributor's idea as a somehow accurate characterization of Existentialism. This is an accurate characterization of Sartre. Not of almost literally anyone else's existentialism. Kierkiegaard, Nietzsche, Camus, Heidegger - these philosophers espouse a system of thought which is not so completely bought and sold on the idea of free will - at least insofar as free will is manifested in physical acts. The virtue (and vice) of Sartre is his uncompromising belief in the power of human will to act. Unfortunately, experience and science tell us that the human will is not necessarily so strong as to be able to dictate to the rest of the human being exactly what to do at all times. What is more important to a man like Kierkegaard for example (a philosopher that any Christian ought to be forced to read IMHO, "Works of Love" in particular), is that the "inwardness" of Christianity ought to be affirmed. Outward circumstances are not so important as the inward, psychological intent. One could even argue for a comparison to Buddhist ideas in his particular system of thought- such is the degree to which inward authenticity is important.

      Whatever you do, please don't allow this JP Sartre nonsense to cloud your judgement as to the value of Existentialism. And at the risk of a blatant ad hominem - even a cursory look at his wikipedia page exposes the unfortunate travesty of truth that is Sartre's thought (he was explicitly rejected by Heidegger, for what it's worth).

      I would conclude by pointing out that insofar as this anonymous assailant has argued from a free-will perspective and you have not, you two have no common ground on which to continue discussion. Any further argument would merely facilitate misunderstanding since the premises which ground your ultimate ideas are quite far removed from each other.

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  4. "What is at least equally interesting is that one can put the shoe on the other foot and read a lot of the LGBT movement as showing signs of an elaborate evasion of God-- not so much in its deviation from traditional morality or the explicit irreligion of some of its members, but rather, in its determined exaltation of romantic love as something almost like salvation."

    You say this as if the implication is "Well, if you accuse me of elaborate unconscious defense mechanisms...I can accuse you of them too!" But the two things are not mutually exclusive! Everyone can be nuts! There's no reason why you and a lot of the liberal gays can't both be subject to neuroses "behind" your beliefs or value systems chosen to be adopted (it's never some sort of pure logic, or all such "consistency seeking" minds would reach the exact same conclusions like a computer! Faith is always a matter of choice to, an act of the will moving the intellect, not just the intellect.) And, of course, the fact of neuroses doesn't disprove the beliefs in the abstract. The fact that your holding of faith is neurotic doesn't mean the ideas themselves are wrong.

    "The point is, such suffering, and being in the dark about it, are not necessarily signs that God is absent, or uncaring, or trying to nudge me to go in a different direction."

    True. "Not necessarily." But isn't one of the signs of "cult-like" thinking the idea that there is always an answer or explanation that simply reaffirms the original conclusion or course of action, even in the face of mounting contrary evidence. Isn't that Chesterton's point talking about how the mad-man's reason is perfectly consistent, but also "a smaller, narrower circle"??

    I'd be much more curious to ask why finding "possible explanations" (that are not really the most obvious or satisfying of Occam's Razor) that maintain your status quo is so important to you rather than accepting a revolutionized paradigm. Isn't that like the Ptolemaic astronomers adding more and more complicated "epicycles" to sustain the geocentric equations for the motion of the planets in the face of mounting contradictions??

    MacIntyre has a great article on Epistemic Crises in which he says: "Conflict arises, of course, not only within but between traditions and such a conflict tests the resources of each contending tradition. It is yet another mark of a degenerate tradition that it has contrived a set of epistemological defences which enable it to avoid being put in question by rival traditions. This is, for example, part of the degeneracy of modern astrology, of some types of psychiatric thought, and of liberal Protestantism." (One might also think of "Last Thursdayist" varieties of Creationism.)

    Has your personal tradition fallen into coherence? Is it in need of a narrative recasting to make sense of a growing pile of "epicycles"?

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    1. I'm sorry to have left the impression of merely issuing a "tu quoque" and leaving it at that; the point I wanted to make was, essentially, the same as the one you go on to make -- I wasn't emphasizing (though it is quite true) that everybody could be nuts, but I was meaning, among other things, to suggest the important point that whether a person is neurotic -- which I surely am -- is irrelevant to the question of whether they are right. That must be decided on other grounds.

      I suppose I see the analogy to cult-like thinking, at least potentially; but, given my extreme distrust of, and distaste for, religious fanaticism (Christian or otherwise), I am less worried about that than I might be. I have stressed in other places that I have no answers -- Raw Tact Part VII is a prime example, as is the post Out of the Whirlwind to which, if memory serves, I linked it -- and am not claiming that what I describe here constitutes an answer, a theodicy, &c.

      Counterintuitive though the claim may be, it is Occam's Razor that keeps me a Catholic. I cannot, for reasons of space, do justice to it here -- if it is crucially important to you to know my reasons, you're welcome to e-mail me, of course -- but I find the case for Christianity, and for Catholic Christianity specifically, sufficiently compelling from a logical perspective, that it makes more sense to me to interpret my experiences according to the theology of the Church than to shape my own theology from my experiences. I don't see that there is anything nonsensical, or even (as it were) "Ptolemaic," about that; it is a simple question of what interpreters we consider it rational to trust. Setting my own far more limited resources of knowledge and wisdom beside those of the Catholic Church, I find it more rational to trust her -- which does not mean bulldozing my own experiences to fit neatly into her theology (a profoundly un-Catholic thing to do, actually), but it does mean taking what I find within myself and asking how this could fit into an authentically Catholic context. "Not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of the manhood into God," the Athanasian Creed says of the Incarnation, and I take this to be the pattern of the Christian life also.

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    2. "but I was meaning, among other things, to suggest the important point that whether a person is neurotic -- which I surely am -- is irrelevant to the question of whether they are right. That must be decided on other grounds."

      Maybe. But this is also the sort of thing that only a person with severe doubts about whether their beliefs were only the result of their neuroses would point out. I don't imagine well-adjusted people at peace with their beliefs insisting on the point that neurotic origins don't invalidate the truth. It smacks of protesting too much. Because while neurotic origins don't mean beliefs aren't true...they, at the very least, put a certain special burden of suspicion on them. Cognitive bias is a huge thing, and takes a very high level of vigilance to counterbalance fairly.

      "I have stressed in other places that I have no answers -- Raw Tact Part VII is a prime example, as is the post Out of the Whirlwind to which, if memory serves, I linked it -- and am not claiming that what I describe here constitutes an answer, a theodicy, &c."

      Maybe. Again, saying "I'm not saying I have all the answers" is usually something I hear from people who do, in fact, basically think they have all the answers. Or, if not "think" it, feel it. I mean, Socrates after all spoke of wisdom as "knowing how ignorant we are." I think a lot of modern people have gotten wise to that and so, with great subconscious pride, are especially careful to include declarations of not claiming to know the answer in their rhetoric (so that they can look as wise as Socrates :P )

      "I find the case for Christianity, and for Catholic Christianity specifically, sufficiently compelling from a logical perspective, that it makes more sense to me to interpret my experiences according to the theology of the Church than to shape my own theology from my experiences."

      You talk a lot about "logic" and "sense" and "reason" and "rational." That's all well and good. But one senses a profound disconnect, in your discourse, between this thinking...and feeling. The thoughts themselves may not be wrong, they may be the height of logic. But there isn't necessarily an integration there. Obviously, all these lofty THOUGHTS aren't, say, stopping you from sleeping around, as you've said. So there is a disconnect here between the mind as some abstract computer-brained thing...and the human heart. And it feels like that is suffocating you; the suffering is so palpable in your writing.

      The thoughts themselves may not be at-issue at all, they all may be perfectly correct and right. But it's clear to me that there is something seriously off about how you're relating to them on the emotional level, like you've painted yourself into a corner.

      I've been there. I've been suicidal, even, because I thought myself into a corner. Well, it's a miserable way to live and eventually either you self-destruct or find a way out.

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    3. Certainly, a preoccupation with pointing out that neurosis does not prove beliefs false may be suspicious, but I dispute the assertion that only someone who was protesting too much would bring it up. I brought it up in the post because I have been accused of it before, many times, and was rather hoping to forestall the possibility, if only because I find the discussion a boring one. Not that it isn't important for the individual case, of course, but that I've so often seen it used as a pretext not to discuss the intellectual issue at hand, something I find very disappointing (not that you seem to be doing that here).

      I re-emphasized that I do not have all the answers because I don't, and because, if I understood you rightly, I was being accused of a cult mentality. It seems only natural to reply to such an accusation. If I misunderstood you there, then I apologize; but it is also good for me to remind myself that I don't have all the answers; and in any case, that seems to be what God is chiefly teaching me at the moment.

      I would have said that one doesn't need to sense any profound disconnect in my writing between thinking and feeling; it is one of my chief topics, quite explicitly. That is one of the reasons that, though I'm not devoted to Sartre, I am very interested in Kierkegaard. The experience of lived conflict, which I can see no way of resolving save by dishonestly denying one of the terms of the equation, as it were, is vividly present in his writings, and I find that quality highly sympathetic. (The division is not quite so simple as head versus heart; both my religion and my sexuality have both thoughts and feelings on their sides, though my sexuality is predominantly feeling-centered and my Catholicism more balanced between feeling and thought.) How that conflict is to be resolved, I don't know. But it is in that acknowledgment of my ignorance, and of the inner conflict I feel, that my sincerity lies: to be in denial about either my Catholic side or my gay side, or else to pretend that I knew what to do about the paradox, is something I couldn't do without being in bad faith -- with myself, even ignoring the question of faithfulness to God.

      I'm genuinely sorry that you had to deal with such distress and with the phantom of suicide hovering over you. I know what that's like too, and dealt with it a lot as an adolescent, as well as with self-injury.

      I gather, however, that our experiences differ in this respect: it is my Catholic faith that has chiefly led me out of that. Calvinism, nihilism, and magic all made it worse; becoming a Catholic -- well, not to overstate the case, but it was my way out. Where I am now is a marked improvement over where I was, say, ten years ago, and it is precisely the Catholic faith that has brought me here, for all its attendant difficulties. I do not insist that that would be the case for everyone, and I've said here more than once that faith does not simply solve problems -- it isn't a deus ex machina (or if it is, it's a shite deus under consideration). But it has given me the will to go on in the midst of the problems, something that no other belief and no other philosophy has done.

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    4. "I brought it up in the post because I have been accused of it before, many times, and was rather hoping to forestall the possibility"

      When one is accused of something "many times," perhaps one should consider that it is oneself who is wrong, and not the multiplicity of accusers. "Maybe God is trying to tell you something." There is a joke about a rabbi who refuses help as the floodwaters rise out of "faith in God." When he gets to heaven he tells God, "Why didn't you help?" God says, "What are you talking about?? I sent police, firefighters, and a helicopter!"

      You're almost talking here like a conspiracy theorist now who, when the relevant parties deny it says, "Yes, but that's exactly what someone who was trying to hide a conspiracy would say!"

      If you've been accused of something "many times" by many different parties...maybe the problem is with you, not us.
      "I've so often seen it used as a pretext not to discuss the intellectual issue at hand, something I find very disappointing (not that you seem to be doing that here)."

      Indeed, I should like to think that I am doing that here! As I've said, philosophy is, largely, a distraction. People engage in it for psychological reasons. Now, saying that won't win a debate, ad hominem is not a logical argument. But I don't care about winning some debate on "theory." I care about you, personally, and your psychological and spiritual health. And in that case, psychologizing may be the most "revealing" narrative after all.

      "The experience of lived conflict, which I can see no way of resolving save by dishonestly denying one of the terms of the equation, as it were, is vividly present in his writings, and I find that quality highly sympathetic."

      Because you're doing your math wrong. If you things don't add up, then you've made a mistake somewhere, or are starting with some wrong postulate.

      "But it is in that acknowledgment of my ignorance, and of the inner conflict I feel, that my sincerity lies: to be in denial about either my Catholic side or my gay side, or else to pretend that I knew what to do about the paradox, is something I couldn't do without being in bad faith"

      They're only two sides of who you are because that's who you choose to be. It's not like your an object that can't stop being "what it is." What "you" are as a human subject...is freedom. Neither a narrative of Catholicism nor a narrative of Homosexuality are "intrinsic" to you (and certainly not some bizarre masochistic "paradox" between them). When you take authorship of your own life, you can write whatever story you want.

      "I gather, however, that our experiences differ in this respect: it is my Catholic faith that has chiefly led me out of that."

      I would say, in part, the same thing. I'm not sure why you assume I'm not Catholic. I vociferously am. Not because I'm "convinced of" it, but because I choose to take a leap of faith. But my brain's not holding a gun to itself, like yours seems to be doing. But why?
      " becoming a Catholic -- well, not to overstate the case, but it was my way out. Where I am now is a marked improvement over where I was, say, ten years ago"

      Are you sure that wasn't just...not being a teenager anymore??

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    5. I had made bold to suppose that you were not a Catholic because you were espousing philosophical beliefs that are logically incompatible with Catholicism, and particularly of the Catholic view of morals. Please pardon my jump from uncertainty to supposing I had certainty in that regard.

      As to having been accused of being neurotic many times, it has always, as in this case, been by people who do not know me personally in any way, and deduce that I am neurotic simply on the grounds that I am a gay man who nevertheless accepts the teaching of the Church on the subject. I've therefore been less disposed to credit their explanation. Now, I have asked myself sometimes whether I wasn't accepting it merely out of neurosis. So I examined my beliefs, with head and heart alike, as honestly and objectively as I could manage, and came out with the same beliefs. I shall therefore be bold to stick to those beliefs.

      As to your apparently intense desire to help me psychologically. I shall, first, point out that some of us actually enjoying thinking for its own sake; that is what philosophy essentially is (however caked by academic terms). I find it demeaning to have that categorically dismissed.

      Second, it is equally true that people sometimes engage in psychology for psychological reasons: some people need to be needed, or to rescue others, or to have people agree with them, or to feel superior; and psychology, like philosophy, can be used as a tool to satisfy that need. That your interest lies in psychology does not in itself protect you from the flaws that can infect philosophers; only personal vigilance can do that, and personal vigilance can be applied to philosophy just as much as to psychology.

      Lastly, since you are a complete stranger, I must therefore thank you for the abundance of goodwill you display in trying to give me a way out. (There is probably no way of writing that that doesn't come across as sarcastic, in this context, but I assure you I'm serious.) May I nevertheless give you a piece of advice on that score? People may be more willing to receive such help if you refrain from insulting their character and their intelligence.

      As to writing whatever story I want -- well, this is the story that comes naturally to me. I am not demanding that you read it. But it is, thus far, what I have written; and I shall go on writing it as seems good to me.

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    6. "I had made bold to suppose that you were not a Catholic because you were espousing philosophical beliefs that are logically incompatible with Catholicism, and particularly of the Catholic view of morals. Please pardon my jump from uncertainty to supposing I had certainty in that regard."

      You should never analyze human behavior or identification according to that sort of cold philosophical "logic." Analyze words and verbal constructs that way if you want, and abstractions like mathematics. But the real world will always frustrate the computer-brained philosopher by not conforming to his theories. Even moreso, such a philosopher will also frustrate himself, because he won't conform to his own theories either. Psychology is a much better model there than philosophy.

      But besides, show me a de fide dogma that I've contradicted.

      "it has always, as in this case, been by people who do not know me personally in any way, and deduce that I am neurotic simply on the grounds that I am a gay man who nevertheless accepts the teaching of the Church on the subject."

      Nope. That's not what it is in this case. I have several friends like that who I do not consider neurotic. (I myself might fall in the same category...except I don't consider myself entire free of neurosis :P) Some of them are, in spite of it, sexually active but at peace with their sinfulness. Others are successfully celibate but don't mourn their loneliness constantly.

      But then, they don't whine about it all the time. They are not plagued with such angst. Their integration or reconciliation of the two suggests to me that they own their values in a way I respect. They are not pity parties. By the tone and ethos of your very writings here on this blog, it is blatantly obvious that you are. If you aren't, stop writing like this about your "struggles." Grow up. It doesn't have to mean giving up any values, but it does mean owning them.

      "it is equally true that people sometimes engage in psychology for psychological reasons: some people need to be needed, or to rescue others, or to have people agree with them, or to feel superior; and psychology, like philosophy, can be used as a tool to satisfy that need. That your interest lies in psychology does not in itself protect you from the flaws that can infect philosophers; only personal vigilance can do that, and personal vigilance can be applied to philosophy just as much as to psychology."

      Well, not exactly. I can KNOW that my interesting in psychologizing is motivated by one of those things, and as long as I OWN that motivation, there is no contradiction, it in fact becomes PART of my psychological self-knowledge.

      Whereas realizing that there is a hidden variable other than sheer "pure pursuit of truth and answers" motivating one's philosophizing...well, in my experience with people, most have quickly lost interest in philosophy in favor of more down-to-earth pursuits within a year or two after having that epiphany and owning it. The mystifying ideological superstructure usually falls away (or at least ones relationship to it transforms profoundly) once the real underlying structural causes are become conscious of.

      "People may be more willing to receive such help if you refrain from insulting their character and their intelligence."

      How does one give someone help when their character, itself, is the problem? I no longer believe in coddling people. I provide the most explanatory and predictive model. That will be available to them when they reach a critical mass of contradictory evidence that is much better explained by my model and they are ready for a paradigm shift remove the spooky variables and delusion and "self conspiracy."

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    7. I'm sorry, but I won't be publishing any more of your comments. You have shown no interest in or respect for any opinions but your own, despite my repeated attempts to suggest alternate interpretations of the facts and to glean useful observations from your own points. You have insulted my character, my intelligence, my writing, and my morals, and can have little left to say to me in any case. I won't exhaust myself, and further risk damaging any fragile readers, with your harshness any longer.

      As to the elements of Catholicism that you have contradicted, so that the faith is not misrepresented, I would point to:

      1. Your understanding of free will is far more radical than even the sternest Catholic view; it would make a nonsense out of venial sin, for example.

      2. Your (apparently) total indifference to the claim of the Catholic Church to teach what is objectively true. You describe a system in which people determine values, &c., entirely on their own initiative; the Catholic faith, while certainly allowing personal expressions and personal emphases, firmly maintains that values come from God, and that the Church has the authority to recognize objective truth. Neither the Church nor the individual has the power to make meaning out of whole cloth, or to construct a universe (moral, psychological, whatever you please) simply according to what they decide, but are responsible to heed objective truth. I can see no way of reconciling that with your approach to values.

      3. Your conduct suggests (though this is more a moral than a doctrinal inconsistency) that you do not believe there is any place for gentleness or compassion in the way we treat people who do not live up to their principles. That is the opposite of Christianity.

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  5. Don't give up Gabriel. I know it must be unbearably difficult and i totally understand the need for love. I'm not going to say the usual Catholic cliches that you have probably heard but please don't give up no matter what happens. I've been through many dark nights of the soul so i understand the dryness. It is not easy at all. You are in my prayers and be assured that there are people out there that want to encourage you. Again, don't give up. May Our Lady protect you.

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  6. I'd be careful about assuming a "dark night," Rachel. The traditional conception in Mystical Theology is that a dark night only happens once (well, twice: there is the Dark Night of the Senses and then the Dark Night of the Soul) and represents a real irreversible progression or "constructive disintegration" in the soul that cannot be reversed. You can't have "many," because if it was a "real" Dark Night...then it has identifiable permanent effects. If it didn't have those effects, it wasn't a Dark Night in the strict mystical theological sense.

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  7. Brother, at the risk of sounding trite, I just have to say that I continue to be incredibly blessed by what you write. Wish I could say more, but at the very least, just want to say that I appreciate your words so much.

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  8. After our exchange @ "Raw Tact, Part IX: Gay and Gospel", I thought about your brief description of your previous attempts at finding a cognitive home, where you mentioned Calvinism. Now you make the point that, compared to where you've been, Catholicism is far better than the previous lot. That, to me, is significant. Context is crucial.

    I will be honest (and untrendily traditional RC in my attitude) and say that my first response was, "Well, good God, if the guy could buy into Calvinism, then what will he NOT believe?" I am not a convert but a cradle Catholic, brought up intensely in pre Vatican II NY Irish Catholicism, so it's almost literally in my DNA, Catholic ancestors for 1500 years. And lemme tell you, despite what the Church now says, pre and post VatII are in many hugely important ways hugely dis-continuous, in effect if not in intention. The SSPX is not responding to a phantom fear. So I can say with some pride, that, although I may be a fallen away Catholic, I am certainly no Protestant. And no Calvinist least of all. Talk about complete submission to rational modernity. Yikes.

    So it makes more sense to me then, why you would tolerate the unyieldingly pointed finger of God's condemnation of your eros, if the price of finding a totalizing authoritative worldview --which you obviously have needed-- is a choice between the Dark Lord of Geneva and the jaw-dropping splendors –aesthetic, intellectual and spiritual--of the Church of Rome.

    For a man such as you are, at least so far in your life, I suspect IMHO that living in exile is a far worse prospect than living in sin.

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    1. That isn't a bad way of putting it, truthfully. My own experience of Catholicism has been fairly different from what you describe, admittedly; but -- let's say there's a good deal of Sebastian Flyte in me. :)

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  9. You are so brave to write this. I struggled with a lot of teachings on sexuality, but I am straight. I don't know that I would have had the Grace to accept Christ if I wasn't so I have nothing but respect for you for doing it and for writing about it. God Bless you!

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  10. God Bless you for writing this. I had a lot of struggles with the Church's teaching on sexuality, and I'm straight. I don't know if I would have had the Grace to accept Christ if I was gay. I have tons of respect for you.

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  11. I have no eloquent thoughts or responses to what is a true cri De Coeur (and I finally could not accept the letter of the Church's teaching) but I feel what you are saying and pray !

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  12. Dear Mr. Blanchard, you could have simply said, "I refuse to bandy words about authenticity and bad faith with something that names itself Anonymous." For all we know, its real name might be Legion.

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  13. Prior to teaching Augustine's "Confessions" I would have been pretty surprised to see such clamorous reactions as Anonymous'. Having seen, however, how students unequipped to handle the frank candor Augustine employs there, it doesn't surprise me that someone here would react similarly to yours.

    Keep fighting the good fight, man.

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  14. Gabriel, hold to your faith. Hold to what you know in your heart--between you and God--is right. In the end, all the other stuff, all the other points of view, beliefs, arguments, explanations, etc. matter so little. And accept that God will forgive you if you make some mistakes along the way. We are not bound by the law anymore. We are raised up in Christ. And even He knew we would fall at times. He will still be in and with us in those times and afterward though, so long as we choose Him to be. You know this!

    I'm sorry you've been having a tough year. To be honest, I really didn't know so much had been going wrong. And I'm sorry for that. But you are my friend and brother, and I love you as such, and always will. I want the very best for you. Hold onto the Light and know that you have so many who care about you.

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  15. Mr Blanchard, the teaching of the RC Church is meant to lead you to flourish whereas a relationship should have the opposite effect. How much misery would it take for you to realise empirically that the teaching might be mistaken, though it may appear very coherent? Or is there nothing this side of death that could prove it wrong?

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  16. A valid and important question. The answer is, I'm not sure.

    The difficulty is, I don't know how far I ought to trust my subjectivity. Of course, one has to trust one's subjectivity to a certain extent, because we can't eliminate it, and it would be bad to do so even if we could -- we would only succeed in making ourselves thinking robots.

    But I digress. An internal inconsistency in Catholicism would persuade me it was false. A paradox or a mystery is not an inconsistency; but a real self-contradiction is. It's generally on those grounds that I analyze my beliefs, more than on my subjective experience.

    But the faith itself tells me my experience is valuable, and it's because of Catholicism that I've come to credit my subjectivity far more than I did as a Calvinist. Exactly how far that ought to go, I'm not sure. Whether anything this side of death could prove it wrong -- well, the Church has not certified her teaching on homosexuality with a formally infallible declaration, so if she proclaimed the truth to be what I'd very much like it to be, then yes, that'd work. But I don't expect that; her consistent witness has always been against it, whether harshly or gently.

    There are three things that reassure me as to the decision I've made: first, the sorrow is not at all continuous. I didn't put it strongly enough in the post, but there are moments when the presence and beauty of God overwhelm me -- that's why I closed with that poetry and sculpture; and it seems clear to me that this is linked to my attempts at celibacy.

    Second, it's a question, not only of rational analysis, but of trust. It's true that a dispassionate analysis seems to me, however narrowly, to support the Church. But it's also that, when I ask myself whom I trust to guide me, I come up with the same answer, and that is a question of being in a relationship, where my confidence is based on a person (Jesus) and not simply on an argument. If I didn't have to risk or endure anything, that trust might be sincere, but it would be weak, having so little to train its strength -- just as, in working out, one has to use heavier and heavier weights.

    Third, there is suffering in everyone's life; and the saints display this in spades. Our greatest example is the anguish of God Himself: a Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, who wept over the Jerusalem that would kill Him and begged the Father for a way out of the Passion in Gethsemane. And turning to the lives of the saints, it is the same: Saint Paul "bore in [his] body the death of Jesus"; Saint Therese was tried by "the worst temptations of atheism"; Blessed Mother Teresa knew almost nothing but desolation for decades. Anguish is a terrible trial, but it is the main path: "They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, afflicted, tormented -- of whom the world was not worthy."

    This proves nothing irrefutably. And my own life can be set beside theirs only in principle; whatever sanctity I have would be better for me not to think about, save that my bad habits and silliness don't seem saintly, and my sorrows seem less than theirs. But this does fit into the Catholic pattern; whereas my attempts to make a different pattern fit have consistently left more loose ends than tied-up ones.

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  17. Of course there is suffering that comes from following Christ and all the saints have known it; yet the reverse is not true: pain is not necessarily a sign that one follows Christ. Please hear me, I'm trying to write this with loads of kindness, if clumsily. I'm not trying to turn you away from your faith (heck, reading you I can almost hear myself some twenty years ago). Maybe you could try approaching these matters less abstractedly and self-centeredly. The point might not be how much evil you should try to avoid but rather how much good and happiness and joy you could give to someone, by being Christlike and selfless in loving him. That too is a way of holiness and it achieves a very discernible good. If you'll take my word for it and knew the people who have devised these new-fangled complementarian and natural law arguments in the catechism (before that, the church had no thought out doctrine on the matter, it was just 'sodomy' and would earn you torture and a shameful death), if you knew these guys, you'd sincerely doubt they have any love for gay people or that they wrote any of that with your good in mind, only the cogency of what flows from their premisses to which straight people themselves are unable to comply.

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    1. I didn't want to leave the impression that pain is always a sign of following Christ, or even that following Christ is always painful; you're quite right about that, and I should probably have spoken a little more carefully, given the perversions of both faith and asceticism that can result from an overly close link between suffering and faithfulness.

      I probably could try approaching these matters less abstractly and self-centeredly. I'm not sure I know how to, though -- at this point, I mean. When I grow up a little more, it may become clearer. I certainly agree that pursuing good is a better motive than avoiding evil, and, though I haven't talked much about this, I'd hate to have anyone think I was saying that anybody in a gay relationship is being essentially selfish, simply by being in such a relationship. Admittedly I think the sexual element (if/when there is one) is wrong; but I don't consider it necessarily worse than a heterosexually active pre- or non-marital relationship. (I place adultery in a different category that need not detain us.) I would certainly take the view that the sexually active gay man who loves and cares for his partner is nearer to the Kingdom of Heaven than the celibate gay man who, by repression and rigidity, has made himself an angry, self-righteous jerk. The story of the sinful woman (traditionally identified as the Magdalene) of Luke 7, in contrast to Simon the Pharisee, springs to mind. Obviously someone who dissents from the Catholic view of sexuality would view the matter pretty differently, but my point is that even from a very traditionalist perspective, there is some shared sentiment. The worst sins, C. S. Lewis rightly said, are purely spiritual; the Jansenist nuns of Port Royal in seventeenth-century France come to mind, too: they were said to be "as pure as angels and as proud as devils." If it came to that, I'd be unchaste and honest about it over being chaste and proud, every time.

      Now, I think it's going too far to say that the Church had no thought-out doctrine on the matter till recently; it has certainly been explicated a lot over the past century, in reaction to the sexual revolution. But natural law theory as an approach to Christian morals is at least as old as St Thomas from what I've studied, and I think that complementarian ideas can be found, to a limited extent, in the Bible itself. The details, however, need not detain us.

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    2. I can easily believe that a lot of the people who have developed these arguments, both now and in the past, are as bad as you say, and worse. St Athanasius said that the floor of Hell is paved with the skulls of bishops; a high view of the Church would even tend to reinforce the notion that the worst sinners are to be found in her, on the principle "corruptio optimi pessima." This is certainly cause to call for conversion of heart within the Church, and that's one of my chief desires in writing this blog. Nor would I defend the Church's record in her treatment of homosexuals; patchy at best -- it almost puts one in mind of her sadly ambivalent attitudes toward the Jewish people across history.

      The thing is, if they are right -- not good, but right anyway -- then there is one terrible sense in which it doesn't matter whether they care about me and those like me or not. It'll matter a great deal to them on Judgment Day, I dare say; not only because of being taken to task for their lack of charity in itself, but because, by their heartlessness, they put a stumbling block in the way of those who might have entered -- "the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you." Likewise Caiaphas prophesied when he conspired with the Sanhedrin to crucify the Lord; wicked though he was, the Spirit operated through him.

      Dante exemplifies the attitude I've adopted about the Church well: he fulminated against her corruption and consigned many Popes to Hell for their sins, and when the Pope he hated most was captured and maltreated by the King of France, Dante said that it was "Christ led captive and crucified in the person of His Vicar." The person and the function are fully distinguished; the function is reverenced according to its own nature, but the person is loved according to his deserts. (Hopefully.) Or, in a military phrase, I salute the uniform, not the person wearing it.

      I have no way at all of making such an approach appealing; I wish very much that, with certain figures that I won't name, I didn't feel the need to distinguish so carefully between the function and the person. I also believe that it is chiefly the person that makes the function credible to the world at large, and for that reason if for no other it is crucially important that persons be good. But, in a situation where certain persons are not good, and where I or those like me are the victims of their moral failures, this is the only response that I can make that makes sense to me.

      I write waaay too long.

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  18. T is ok Mr Blanchard, way too many people think matters so cut and dry that their mind can be explained in a couple of sentences, and I really like long reads. I like Aquinas too and fail to see how gay sex contravenes to our rational participation in God's eternal Law (aka natural law)... unless of course sex is strictly a baby-making endeavour, which is a very catholic thing to believe, albeit not a very widely practiced belief... and I'm not a Roman Catholic. If I manage to put a fee thoughts together about complementarianism, I'll dedicate the post to you, meanwhile: holidays, yeeaaah.

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  19. I have begin, actually, should you ever want to tell me what you think
    www.exclusivechurch.com

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  20. Don't give up you faith, young man. Your zeal there is admirable!

    However, as a long time pastor and spiritual director, there are things about your attitude and approach here that concern me.

    I think you are coming up against what a wise advisor and counsellor of my own has called "the paradox of second order desires" which is something anyone with the cure of souls becomes familiar with soon enough into their career of ministering.

    The paradox is this: second order desire ("wanting to want," or "wanting to not want") often do not do a very good job at controlling first order desires. Especially not through some sort of straightforward repression. And yet people are inclined to identify "correct" second-order desires with orthodoxy or "good intentions" or what have you. The result can be schizophrenic, however.

    You wind up with bizarre "structurally" problematic moral outcomes. For example, the guy who swears off premarital sex, and so refuses to buy or carry a condom, and then when he does "slip up" in a "weak moment"...it's actually that much worse because then there is pregnancy or an STD. Or the guy who swears off smoking and so throws away his detachable filter as part of expressing his second order desire to quit (keeping the filter around would allegedly represent a concession of relapse in his thinking). Well, he keeps smoking pretty much as often, but just doesn't have the filter, and so he is actually at greater risk of cancer!

    There are even "political" analogues. I am inclined to think of a certain type of pro-lifer whose primary concern is criminalization (conceived of as something like the expression of a second-order desire of the community or of the state). However, then you go somewhere like Nicaragua where abortion is criminalized and yet remains just as common in proportion to the population as in the US, it's just hidden and in terrible conditions and with a lot more maternal death.

    "Good" second-order desires, in this way, often have the paradoxical effect of NOT actually stopping something bad, but merely "driving it underground." Someone who avoids a relationship but then winds up with a chaotic structure to their sex life where things are more dangerous and less human...is the classic example among pastors that I've spoken with about this. But why should a refusal to integrate (mitigate) sexuality be taken as any better? And why this common compulsion to make charges at cold-turkey repressive non-gradualism?

    I'd suggest maybe, then, that given some of the feedback you're receiving from a variety of sources with a variety of different viewpoints, you consider that maybe there is problem not with your beliefs, but with how you are structuring the relationship in yourself between behavior, first order desire, second order desire, and belief. If the practical results are what you say they are...then something is obviously short-circuiting there, or the logic is ending with an incoherent solution to the equation.

    I think it's a mistake in my experience talking to people, first of all, to identify second-order desires and orthodoxy. Perhaps it would be better to construct orthodoxy as a "third order" desire rather than imagining that it needs to be directly manifested in some sort of "strict consistency" of second order desire?

    (I think such an understanding would also make the Church's moral teachings a lot more palatable to people as well; I think liberal society gets the letter wrong, but the spirit right when it comes to spiritual health, because they know instinctively that there is something wrong with the approach to "imposing the law" that many of them understand Christian moral teachings to represent. Which is understandable, since many Christians do seem to understand it that way and promote such an attitude!)

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    1. There's a great deal to be said for that. I should probably have clarified that I don't suppose my behavior and my orthodoxy to be linked necessarily; when I wasn't attempting chastity I was as orthodox as I am now -- my beliefs hadn't changed -- but holding on to those beliefs was as much as I could do; trying to practice them seemed utterly impossible, so I wasn't. (I talked about this a little more in Raw Tact Part VII.) Since I haven't been trying very long, and since, as you say, my second order desires aren't, well ... The point is, I haven't ruled out a solution more along the lines that you seem to be suggesting -- if it becomes clear that, for the foreseeable future, sex is just going to be part of my life, then I think it would be wiser and more charitable to seek a monogamous relationship. What I'd do about the Eucharist in such circumstances I really don't know, except that I would seek my director's advice, natch.

      But I feel called at the least to give it another shot. So I'm doing that right now. What I will do tomorrow -- well, as our Master said, "Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." :)

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    2. I hate to sound like I'm agreeing with your existentialist interlocutor, but I do have to wonder what you mean by "trying."

      For example, if the US decided to end the "War on Drugs" tomorrow and take an approach that focused more on treatment and rehabilitation and ending the economic incentives for drug dealers and the social alienation that drives people to drug use...would this approach be any less "trying" to stop the scourge of drug-use than the "criminalize and punish" approach based on "enforcement" and, essentially, police-repression?? On the contrary, I think it constitutes "trying" just as much! And indeed, I see no reason why the "criminalize and enforce" approach should take any sort of conceptual priority there.

      Likewise if a place like Nicaragua decided that it was better to have abortion "safe, legal, and rare" than "dangerous, illegal, but still common" and to focus on actually minimizing total deaths (including deaths of the unborn) through poverty programs, healthcare, and creating the sort of social structures that make abortion unnecessary...would changing to such an approach represent some sort of "giving up" or "concession" or "second best" or "not trying" compared to the "criminalize and enforce and punish (when you can)" model? Even if it was more successful practically?

      Is the latter even a theoretical ideal? I know that, in real life, maximum efficacy probably comes from striking a balance between the two types of approaches...but if a country could get rid of all drug-use and abortion by addressing the structural causes...would it even matter, at that point, if the theoretical acts were criminalized in laws paying lip-service to the principles?

      I think you need to apply a little bit of the spirit of your "Christian anarchy" to your own soul, because as it stands all this talk of "one last attempt" at the "War on Drugs" model, as it were (except with chastity)...sounds like it is very internally "Statist" of you.

      I'd also echo Lorenzo in asking: how many failures of the "War on Drugs" is it going to take to convince you that the model is failing?

      It may be that the answer is that nothing will, but if that is the case I'd suggest you seriously reevaluated everything. There are certainly some conservatives for whom no amount of empirical evidence or experience will prove that the War on Drugs is failing, because they'll say things like "But if we stopped now, it would escalate exponentially and get infinitely worse, it would be chaos!! We need to just keep trying to clamp down and punish offenders and get more police on our streets!!" One suspects that they are letting some sort of underlying authoritarian or puritanical ideology trump good policy, trump actually achieving the goals vis a vis stopping drugs that they say they want to achieve. But there isn't exactly a way to disprove them without trying it (which is exactly what their "but maybes" prevent us from doing).

      And maybe, when we have a police state and drug use actually is rather rare, they'll proclaim Victory. But at what cost? What are the real values at stake, and priorities, and what constitutes victory and what constitutes failure, and what sort of prices are too high? These are good questions for the polis and for the individual soul.

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    3. Sorry to have taken so long to get back to you! Now then.

      I'd agree with your analogy that both "war" and "restructuring," if we may use those as terms for the two distinct approaches, are different ways of trying -- in pretty much any endeavor. I'd also tend to agree that restructuring is preferable to war for virtually every reason and in nearly every case: I don't rule out the possibility that the warlike approach might occasionally be necessary, though no very serviceable examples spring to my mind. But what I am trying to do at the moment is see if I can find my way into some sort of self-restructuring, precisely in the context of celibacy. It's quite possible that such restructuring -- achieving an interior freedom in which chastity is something is done simply and with joy, rather than with the struggle and inconsistency I'm currently experiencing -- could take place in a relationship; I've tried it before, and I know a handful of people who doing the same. My particular attempt to do so didn't work out, for some rather involved reasons we needn't go into here; my point is, I don't want to leave the impression that I think "Nothing is worse than gay sex!" and therefore torture myself or resort to any means rather than even risk such a thing.

      My Christian anarchy doesn't really have any applicability to matters of faith, honestly. That isn't because faith is "too sacred" to be analyzed in that way, but because the premises of my anarchism, in themselves, don't apply: my anarchy is not a categorical rejection of order or authority in themselves; I'm controverting the claim that natural authority is best invested in the state, as understood by modern democracies. The realm of faith is discussing things arrived at by revelation, rather than by the light of natural reason, so that even its subject matter is different, and on top of that I believe that the essence and teaching office of the Church are among the things revealed. In short, the things being dealt with between the State and the Church are (in my view) of such differing qualities that the analogy between anarchism and "internal anarchism" (to adapt your phrase) doesn't work.

      I don't honestly know what precisely would convince me that a "war on unchastity," for me personally, would not be worth waging. I can say, however, that the answer isn't nothing. If, looking at things as objectively as I could (and of course with wise counsel), it seemed clear that I was risking not only my own well-being but that of other people to a grave degree, then I would certainly opine that it would be safer and even more moral to seek a faithful sexual relationship. I don't, right now, think I'm in that situation. But I haven't been back on the wagon very long, and I don't know what graces I will or won't receive.

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    4. Well young man, I wish you the best on your journey.

      You say "what I am trying to do at the moment is see if I can find my way into some sort of self-restructuring." I think this is good! I'd just be careful, and forgive me for being a bit skeptical.

      Can you identify for us (I think it would be helpful for your readers) any concrete ways in which you are actually trying to restructure, any sort of logic regarding why you hope certain causes might lead to certain effects, or any experimentation you are implementing with new approaches (this might require spiritual risk taking!) to see just what sort of effects occur?

      Because if your attempt at restructuring is just continuing to try to "enforce the law" by sheer repressive power, and the reason it is restructuring not war is merely because you hope some structural transformation will suddenly occur out of nowhere in the course of this attempt (perhaps, you imagine, God will give it to you like a miracle as a reward for your semi-pelagian attempt?)...I have to predict with moral certitude that this will not work, and indeed it seems rather disingenuous to call this a restructuring approach rather than a repressive approach.

      I'd hope, however, you could identify some concrete ways in which you are trying to change on the "structural" level other than just "trying not to do it" (which is the "war"/will-power approach), could say why you think these changes might have the desired effect of moving you towards chastity, and could you also identify any new things you are trying to see if you get new results?

      New results will not ever suddenly result from old approaches, and if you feel like you have exhausted the range of legitimate approaches, perhaps you need to reconsider your notions of just what sort of "experiments" are allowed under the regime of grace (hint: any path that leads to learning the spiritual lesson that needs to be learned is legitimate, even if it is in the form of learning from a "necessary mistake"...)

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    5. That, Father, is an outstanding line of questioning, and with your permission I will devote my next blog post to it -- I couldn't possibly do justice to it in such a cramped context as this. I'll try and hit at it a bit here anyway, though.

      I learned the hard way that Semi-Pelagian spirituality and repression (I wonder whether they're always the same thing? They were for me) do not work at all. That, in fact, was why I abandoned chastity the first time, as I touched on in Raw Tact Part VII. The difference between trying to be chaste, as I was then trying, and not trying to be chaste, seemed to consist solely in how miserable and hysterical I was; the amount of sex I was having, whether solo or with others, didn't seem to be affected at all. I just couldn't get away from the thought process that I could make God love me by being good -- the very act of trying, at that time, was too wrapped up in my spiritual and psychic neurosis. That was why I stopped.

      I think I have made some appreciable progress on the God-loves-me-unconditionally front in the intervening years, and that is a large part of why I decided to take another crack at chastity. (I never stopped Confessing.) I learned a good deal from my ex-boyfriend, too, when we were together; that I was a proper object of love was again pressed upon me, as it had been with Victor (whom I talked about in Raw Tact Part II).

      As to spiritual techniques for becoming chaste without becoming a hysteric or a repressed jerk, well, I'm definitely still working on that, and like I said I want to write a full post about it. The following things seem like a summary of much of what I've learned:

      1. The economy of the sacraments. It all comes back to this: no matter how exalted or how humble a person's spirituality is, the sacraments are the universal medium of Divine grace.

      2. Prayer. If the Eucharist is our heartbeat, prayer is our lungs. No spiritual life can do without it.

      3. Friendship. All believers coinhere with one another: we are meant to mutually support each other; even, in a sense, interanimate each other. This is something I have little talent for, due partly to my own faults and partly to my misfortunes; also, it gets used by unsympathetic people as a pretext for ignoring the erotic dimension of gay spirituality a lot. Nevertheless it is as important as the unsympathetic people say it is.

      4. Creativity. I take the sexual impulse to be, among other things, a manifestation of the even more fundamental human urge to create. I don't think anyone can live a healthy celibate life without some kind of meaningful creative outlet. For me, it's my writing, and music to a lesser extent; but I think anything creative would do -- arts, crafts, what have you.

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    6. Those are all wonderful things!

      I encourage you to pursue those avenues. Forgive me, I thought I had read somewhere that you had said that you had tried all these typical "first line of defense" remedies and found no success or alleviation. I must have been thinking of someone else. If you haven't tried them, you definitely should!

      One last concern I have is how you speak of the possibility of a monogamous relationship as a sort of lesser evil to mitigate bad effects of sin and "contain" the sex, as it were.

      I understand the idea here of course, but I have this question about perspective: have you considered looking at it from the other angle? That is to say, sex as a concession for the sake of the great good of a relationship (rather than a relationship as a sort of concession to contain the evil of sex)?

      I'm not saying dive into either alternative, but do you see the difference in connotation or approach there? It's that question of priorities I've been getting at. For you, which is more important...the lesser evil, or rather the greater good? Technically they might be two sides of the same coin, but attitudinally they are very different. Which is more important, minimizing evil or maximizing good? Is it better to have the greater good at the price of a greater sin, or the lesser evil even if it means a lesser good? (One wonders what the bishops think about this as they threaten to close whole hospitals to avoid paying for contraception...)

      Another way to phrase this might be: what does chastity mean for you as a positively reality, as a "Yes" instead of just a series of "Nos"? Answering what the "Yes" is might be more effective at helping you figure out whether you are making progress towards it (and what things constitute progress) rather than an evaluation made based on abstinence from certain problematized "Nos"...

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    7. No, you were thinking of me. I have largely tried these things before (though I think I've been pulled more deeply into both prayer and creativity than I used to be, and right now my friendships seem more developed, too). What I'm doing now is trying again, and doing my best -- a dubious best, perhaps, but hey, it's what I have to work with -- to approach it in a different spirit.

      I think my way of speaking about relationships must come off as far more negative than I mean it to. I'm actually of the opinion that the only thing wrong in principle with a gay relationship is the sex (if/when there is any). I think an attempt at a relationship without sex is high risk, exceedingly difficult, and not for everyone; I think, too, that I'm being called at the least to take another crack at celibacy for the time being. But I wouldn't necessarily regard myself as being in sin simply for having a relationship with a guy -- it would depend on my motives. That such a relationship might involve sex doesn't greatly move me for the same reason that a straight relationship might involve fights; no relationship is defined by the moral shortcomings that take place in it.

      Now, if I were using a relationship as a pretext to have sex, then yes, that would be wrong through and through. But it would be wrong, not just because of the gay thing, but because using people for sex is *always* wrong.

      I certainly recognize the difference between avoiding evil and pursuing good, and agree that pursuing good is always to be preferred as a healthier and more useful mindset. The thing is, although I sense a calling to try to be celibate, I honestly don't know exactly what I am being celibate for, what the positive dimension is (other than that of simply living in accord with my convictions -- which isn't wrong, but it is a law-based motivation, and that's not enough). I am hoping I will find out; but, here again, I just don't know. Not right now, anyway.

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    8. Well, figuring out how to define that "Yes" is, I think, your most important task.

      I'd offer that you might find, in the process, that at least at certain (earlier) points in that journey towards the Yes of chastity...getting closer to the Yes might also, paradoxically, involve a greater frequency of the Nos (and not just as "accidents" or "slip ups" or "wrong turns" but as deliberate "strategic" choices directed towards achieving that Yes).

      The two are not mutually exclusive. Sometimes cleaning involves making a bigger mess first to pull everything off the shelves and out of the drawers to decide what can be kept, what can be discarded, what needs to be sorted, etc.

      God bless!

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  21. I have a hunch that a clarification is needed. From some of the comments, I get the sense that when I write "unchastity," many if not most people take that to mean "sleeping with lots of dudes." Without pretending that I've lived a very clean life in that particular respect, I ought probably to add that using porn, masturbation, and lust (even without porn or masturbation) are also unchaste behaviors. Even if I'd never had sex, I would still describe a struggle with any of those things as a struggle with unchastity. I don't quite like to define how much any of those things is an element of my struggle, because, uh, well, TMI and stuff.

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  22. It looks as if I've come to the wrong post. I had intended to comment on another one. But, after reading what Fr. Tomas had to say about second order desire, it seems to me that the negative examples he gives do nothing to disprove the wrongfulness of second order desires. I think the point is simply the first remark: they do little to change the first order desires.

    You correctly want to be chaste. A second order desire, to want to want to be chaste, amounts to a desire not to be tempted. I think such a desire is futile. I think it is important to accept that we will be tempted. Perhaps a habit of virtue, once solidly established, greatly lessens the temptations against that virtue. But at the very least, building the Rome of that habit takes much more than a day. But the habit of virtue is never built if one accepts concession to the opposing vice as necessary or desirable as a greater good than "repression." Woe to those who call good evil and evil good — which is not the same as saying that one evil, e.g. unbridled promiscuity, is worse than another, e.g. sexual activity within a faithful, monogamous, homosexual relationship.

    Now to find the other post and comment on friendship outside marriage and finding a boyfriend.

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  23. I'd venture a response to naturgesetz by saying that I fully admit I think the Thomistic notion of virtue being espoused by him...is way off base.

    The notion seems to be the traditional Aristotelian line that if you exercise your will to "practice" continence from vice enough, eventually this practice will pay off in a habit as if you're practicing piano or throwing a football.

    Except that muscular motions and muscle-memory don't actually make a very good analogy for the moral life of the will.

    Growth in virtue seems to be much less about "training" and much more about LEARNING. As such, major spiritual or moral changes are much more likely to occur through personal psycho-emotional growth and maturing (either in epiphany moments, or just as often in the accumulation of daily lessons from little experiences) and self-introspection...than from some sort of program of repressive discipline.

    I used to be a very angry man, for example. Did my wrath go away by trying to "resist" it by an act of second order desire attempting to suppress my first?? No. At best that just bottled it up for a while, and then it came out even worse.

    When I changed, it was the accumulation of a thousand little "lessons" about inter- and intra- personal dynamics and values I had learned, and then one major car crash, which changed my whole way of thinking and relating to people in such a manner that anger didn't even make sense anymore as a response.

    Before raging made me feel powerful and in control; eventually (through much trial and great error!) I realized that it actually made me feel out of control and experience taught me it never achieved it's desired ends effectively or satisfyingly. But that's just it: it was a realization learned through experience, not a habituation imposed through will. It was a paradigm shift. Trying to repress the anger within the old psychological paradigm simply did not work.

    This is why I suggest "third order" desire as better than second. A second order desire assumes the current system and for that very reason cannot change it. A third order desire can be directed at restructuring the whole self. It's a bit like a sort of "sliding puzzle" where one is attempting to find a way to get all the pieces in the right place. Sometimes, there is simply a gridlock where no moves will get things in place or where it's very hard. Yet if you're wiling to remove a piece and put it back somewhere else, it becomes easy. Of course, opening up the possibility of third-dimensional movement like that ruins the whole point of the challenge, but this is just my point: the spiritual life isn't a game or puzzle, it's the goal and end that matter, and any artificial constraints one puts in the "how" of achieving virtue (like, "no coloring outside the lines") are purely artificial and self-limiting. They certainly are not from the New Testament God who wants us "dead to the law." The goal is not to follow the rules perfectly, it is to internalize virtue.

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    1. You may not have noticed that I actually agreed with you that second order desires aren't effective ways of changing first order desires. I suggested to Gabriel that those first oder desires are likely to remain (although I think they can diminish).

      I'm coming at this from the consideration of doing, not desiring. What we desire doesn't matter nearly so much as what we actually do. And I think your phrase "coloring outside the lines" (which I've heard others use with respect to not following rubrics strictly) trivializes what can be at issue.

      If, as you seem to suggest, working from the level of third order desires enables a person to get his first order desires in line with growth in holiness, that's fine. Of course, it is better to live a holy life because we have come to realize its beauty. But we can only be dead to the law when we are alive in the Spirit. As that life develops, the law is useful to remind us how we should , and should not, live. The same Paul who wanted us to be dead to the law was not loath to tell people how they needed to behave, and he was absolutely clear that freedom from the law did not in the least include freedom to sin.

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    2. Let's think about anger. Before you changed, under the influence of all the little lessons and the one big one — and similarly with anybody else who is anger-prone, and maybe never learns the lesson you learned — should you have said, "The law may forbid such outbursts, but I'm dead to the law. I'm coloring outside the lines, perhaps, but I'm being true to myself as currently constituted. Don't try to tell me not to fly into a rage?" Should others have simply accepted that your rages were how you expressed yourself?

      It occurs to me that you are approaching this from an either-or perspective — either repress the wrong desires or grow out of them — while I'm taking the both-and view — grow to full maturity of freedom from sin and while you're getting there, refrain from sinful conduct.

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    3. No of course I'm not saying my anger before was a-ok. Not at all. My anger was a sign of how very sin-sick I was.

      What I'm saying is that the attempts to repress added nothing, contributed nothing, to the ultimate solution. If anything, they delayed it.

      I think we need to understand sin in the more Eastern sense. Sin is first and foremost a disorder of the passions, of the will. The external behavior or acts are mere "symptoms" of that underlying illness.

      If we could be rid of all the symptoms, it would profit us nothing if the underlying disorder were not cured; then we'd just be whited sepulchers.

      And, frankly, if the underlying disorder were truly cured, then hypothetically all the "bare symptoms" in the world would not be problematic because the just man is a law unto himself (IF it were possible to abstract bare symptoms separate from the underlying disease, mind you, which it ordinarily is not given that someone who isn't sick in an underlying way simply never would normally display any symptoms, unless it were truly some sort of extraordinary "charity must trump all" situation).

      But treating or repressing symptoms...is not necessarily the way to treat a disease, certainly is not the essence of it. Sometimes it has a role, but often it is at best pointless and at worst downright harmful (or a distraction from treating the systemic underlying condition).

      The Law is useful as a standard for comparing ourselves to in order to gauge our spiritual health, inasmuch as it describes various "symptoms" and what signs indicate underlying problems. It does not follow from there that trying to follow the law will make you healthy, that's a total reversal of the direction of causation. Refusing to cough or sneeze won't cure your cold, even though they are the signs of a cold.

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  24. This is, in my experience as an individual and a pastor, the way of Grace over the way of willpower and Law. When we really on the wisdom gained from experience to change us and to grow in response to...we are relying on grace, because experience is "given" rather than willed.

    This is true with students generally and is the (correct) intuition behind things like "new math." You can sit and have student memorize mathematical algorithms and processes and formulae by rote, and they might eventually become proficient at applying these to a variety of problems. But if they don't internalize the why, it's just like the Chinese Room thought experiment. A constructivist approach, on the other hand, is truly about making the meaning so that students get not just the external skill, but a true understanding.

    But if you ask me, "virtue" without this sort of internalized understanding isn't virtue at all for a Christian. Then it's just Phariseeism. The order of grace is about actual internalization, and internalization is achieved through "aha!" learning and growth, not from discipline. No amount of discipline can give you wisdom, no amount of discipline will give you prudence, and yet practical prudence is, even in Aquinas, the foundation and integrative factor of all other virtue.

    I have to be very sad for anyone who says " the habit of virtue is never built if one accepts concession to the opposing vice as necessary or desirable as a greater good than 'repression'"...such an individual is very lost or stagnant in their spiritual growth.

    As a pastor who has heard so many stories, let me tell you that I've seen infinitely more growth in people willing to take spiritual "risks," in other words, to discover what true human fulfillment is by a sort of trial-and-error experimentation that leads them to internalize their lessons...than from the self-righteous "practicers" of virtue-by-continence who attempt a safe and un-messy implementation based on pure theory.

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    1. Note: I tried to submit this comment a half hour ago, but I'm not sure it made it through, so here goes again. Sorry if it's a duplicate.

      "I've seen infinitely more growth in people willing to take spiritual 'risks,' in other words, to discover what true human fulfillment is by a sort of trial-and-error experimentation that leads them to internalize their lessons...than from the self-righteous 'practicers' of virtue-by-continence who attempt a safe and un-messy implementation based on pure theory."

      You know what you mean by this. To me it's just vague generality. So I'd like you to give me some specific examples of this "trial-and-error experimentation:" the persons' beginning situation, what they actually did in their experimentation, and how they "ended up" (realizing that change can continue throughout life) so I can understand what you're talking about. It would be especially useful if one example was of somebody who started from a point similar to Gabriel's. Perhaps also a married person considering adultery and someone whose concerns had nothing to do with sex. I'm sure you can do it without giving names or enough circumstantial detail to make the individuals identifiable.

      Thanks.

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    2. Many cases are much too subtle to chart every little step of progress. But I can think of a few notable cases, or rather classes of cases (as they occur with the same patterns rather frequently over the years).

      Examples that have nothing to do with sex are easy enough to come up with, but probably don't seem as revolutionary to Catholics because it seems that the principle of charity (and spiritual growth) trumping all has already long been admitted in every area but sex! For example, people who don't hesitate to steal to feed the poor, to shoot a "Hitler" when given the opportunity, to tell a lie to save lives, to wink at experimentation with alcohol among teenagers in exchange for making sure it is safe.

      Perhaps a more thought-provoking case would be of a man whose family routinely had huge fights about getting to Mass in time on Sunday. As a pastor, I had no qualms about simply waiving their obligation to attend (as pastors can do for reasons of pastoral necessity) in order to take away at least this justification the angry father had for lashing out at his family, "the Law is made for man, not man for the Law." The man was, frankly, floored, as it was quite clear he wanted me to be on his side and tell his whole family he was right and that they shouldn't be so lazy. Well, they have their own issues that need to be worked out I'm sure, but if the obligation to attend Mass was being used by this man as a vessel for his anger and self-righteous pride and as a control-instrument over his family...I thought we might as well just cut that whole Gordian knot (though, I think my point would have remained just as true even if there were no way to "officially" dispense from the obligation; if the question of going to Mass just makes you an even worse person, you might as well not go, dispensation or not!) He was actually furious at me for it, "You're just letting them off the hook! Well, God is not fooled!" but there was nothing he could do and a few months later he came back humbled, said he'd entered anger management, and started letting his family make their own decisions, and I reinstated the obligation.

      But it especially in the area of chastity that Catholics seem most legalistic for some reason. Many think of it in terms of the "No," but really it is about integration of our sexuality as a positive reality. Someone could be following the law perfectly, and be a total picture of compartmentalization and repression.

      I knew a young man in seminary. At the time we were all a little repressed so perhaps he didn't seem so odd to us back then, but looking back he was a neurotic mess of repressed sexuality. The oldest son of immigrant parents, his embrace of celibacy I think was probably more about wanting to remain his parents' "good little boy" and a certain self-righteous horror regarding the whole topic of human intimacy. He had erected so many barriers in his psyche to protect himself from it, and as I got to know him I learned that he had never even masturbated (and I believe that was true). But as the third year began he slipped into a deep depression, had several angry outbursts, and finally was asked to leave the seminary when his sexuality started expressing itself in strange erratic ways as the steam started bursting out (not to get into too much detail, we're talking weird voyeur/exhibitionist stuff around town).

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    3. Well I think it was mutual because he lost his faith in God too around that point. I only found out what happened to him years later when he and I spoke by chance at a conference, but apparently he went to university and went through a sort of rumspringa of hard-living, starting by using prostitutes because approaching a woman in the normal way was too terrifying for him. However, the normal socialization of "letting loose" at parties for the first time, and the confidence he gradually gained sexually actually did wonders for him. He had to navigate excess, no doubt, and he became alcoholic for a time.

      But today he is back in the church and married with a wife and kids, his personality so normal and almost unrecognizable from his time as a seminarian. The process was long and not reducible to any one event, but I am not hesitant to say that "getting laid" was a big step for him in terms of moving out of his repression and towards the chaste sexual integration of married life. The psychological release and growth away from self-righteousness that his experimentation at the university in general represented seems to have been huge and just what he needed.

      You don't have to be a seminarian for this to make sense. I see lots of young adults in my parish marrying after a period of premarital sex and cohabitation and they're set now. I see, at the same time, a more conservative group (of young men, mostly) who haven't found a spouse yet, aren't even dating, because they are having trouble finding a girl who will "wait" with them. I see other couples rushing into marriage too quick because they can't wait any longer. But is the goal to avoid fornication as if that avoidance is an end in itself? Or is the real substance of saying that fornication does not represent chastity mainly that marriage DOES represent the fullness of sexual integration (and so anything else falls short)? Is the real thing of importance avoiding pre-marital sexual activity, or getting TO marital life?

      To me it is clear enough that becoming sexually active actually represents, for many people, a step CLOSER to marital chastity rather than a step away from it. Who is closer to the marital ideal? The guy who has never dated and lives in a world of pornographic fantasy, or the guy with a live-in fiancee? You might say this is a false dichotomy because there is the option of both courting and moving towards marriage AND abstaining, and that's true enough in theory. But I'll just tell you that, in practice, it's rare, and even rarer that it is done in a healthy fashion; many of the "waiting until marriage" couples want to tie the knot less than a year after first meeting. And in many cases, regardless of the hypothetical ideal, I see young people (again, mainly very rigid young men) totally removed from the dating scene, or sabotaging multiple relationships on account of their sexual ambivalence, when their more "go with the flow" peers (while they almost certainly are having sex with their girlfriends) move towards marriage according to a normal and almost effortless social progression. There is also a lot more misogyny among the guys looking for a girl to "wait" with, and a palpable sort of masculine-insecurity and bitter reactionaryism that is clearly not healthy at all (and which, as a purely psychological analysis apart from any moral question, I do think would probably start to get resolved if they "got laid"...)

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    4. For those of us called to celibacy, whether because we are monks or priests or gay, the practical progression here may seem less obvious, but I think the psychological progression remains just as true. While the ultimate destination may not involve sex, I think lots of gay men in loving sexual relationships, for example, are closer to the inter-personal and intra-psychic values that are the substance of chastity than are the weird bitter loners whose hearts have become frigid and barren from a lifetime of affection withheld, emotional pipes "stopped up," and a lack of human touch.

      I don't know if you've seen the blog "Sacred Tension," naturgesetz, but I think it's a great example of the sort of thing I'm talking about. The author is currently "Side A" (meaning okay with gay marriage) and while that's problematic in terms of orthodoxy, I think given what I know of his story it's actually probably the healthiest thing in the world for him right now. It is quite clear that the traditional teaching about homosexuality was traumatizing for him. You can say it "shouldn't have been" and maybe you are theoretically right; I'm not saying the Church should change Her doctrine in light of such stories, She shouldn't. But the fact remains that, on account of a certain legalistic understanding of morality that is widespread in Christianity, many people simply ARE traumatized by the traditional notions, or at least by the attitude which is currently (though unnecessarily) bootstrapped to them.

      And for many people, to escape the shame and emotional shutting-down that occurs in this way, a period of sojourning away from the Law entirely is needed. One might hope that, as they continue to grow they will come to see, again, the ways in which certain conduct is morally problematic, but I think that for lots of people, sorting out the good from the bad in a given phenomenon requires a period of exploring it through a paradigm in which it is unqualifiedly good (if only to "balance out" the excesses of a view in which everything touching it was painted unqualifiedly bad!)

      It must be done with "fear and trembling," to be sure, which I think the author of that blog does marvelously, and I think in spite of the "theoretically" imperfect situation he currently is in (but, I expect, only as a sort of transitional period or Seeking stage, though it may last years and years)...he strikes me as someone who, now, has burst out in a grace-filled transformation from Death Under the Law into a sort of spiritual "risk taking," trusting in grace and love, that is bold and brave and incredibly honest and authentic. I never get a sense of Authenticity from the "law follower" crowd. I just don't.

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  25. Fr. Tomas —

    Thank you for taking the time to write such a thorough response to my questions. I understand your point much more clearly now. In theory, I've been quite comfortable saying that God is much more patient than we are and will lead us gradually to the point where we can accept the grace he wants to give — whereas we humans often want instant perfection.

    Perhaps I can integrate all this with my understanding of sin by putting it in the context of the fact that the sinfulness of an act is diminished, and even removed, by lack of freedom on the part of the one who places the act.

    But even though I can see that for some people misconduct — according to the Church's teachings — may turn out to be the path to greater holiness, I'm still uneasy about seeming invitations to act out.

    This is slightly off point, but I want to share it. About 45 years ago, I was in a class on Sacraments of Initiation which was being taught by the monastery's liturgist, then in his late 50's and living with heart disease which could be fatal at any time. One day he stopped in the midst of his lecture and said, "You enter the monastery and you think if you follow the rules and obey the abbot, [you've got it made]. Then as you approach the end you learn that it's all about love, and you find yourself wondering if you've made the grade."

    My spiritual director advises me to socialize more.

    I'm not familiar with "Sacred Tension." I'll check it out.

    Thanks again for responding.

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  26. Well I'd be very careful about invitations to act out. It is not the job of either the Church priests to advise people to take any particular course of action, frankly, merely to remind them of the general principles and help them reach conclusions from themselves. It really depends on the situation. Vomiting is a symptom of disease but sometimes if you've swallowed poison, the best thing is to vomit it up.

    It really is all about love. Sometimes, though, love among sinful people is characterized by moral imperfection.

    I know Christ and His Mother never gossiped or got drunk together, their relationship didn't need that. But I also know on an intuitive level that the uptight abstemious little git who stands in the corner at a party scowling at how "decadent" everyone is being is farther from the kingdom of heaven in his pride than his peers who know how to share unrestrained camaraderie, even if they also of course have excesses (of a sort that tends towards the opposite problem: the threat of the dissolution of the self into the collective or at the mercy of social forces). The best spiritual advice for him at that point is "Get over yourself, get wild, and make some friends." He can worry later about finding that winsome balance that allows the mature and holy to be gregarious as a party while remaining totally moderate.

    Very often my relationships with friends have been built up by a bit of gossip. I know it's sinful, but in context, as long as it is about more distant acquaintances and I trust my friends to be discreet, it's really the lesser evil compared to shutting down conversation with a sense of artificial formality and becoming "that guy " whom people feel they have to walk on eggshells around in order to not offend.

    I think it's telling how often I see in my congregation this dynamic: having "church friends" compartmentalized from "real friends" (ie, non-Catholics whom they feel comfortable letting their hair down around, being themselves without pretense).

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  27. I have said this before, and I truly hope this doesn't come off as condescending- I would never intend that. I also don't mean to sound overly behaviorist- I am no philosopher, and perhaps have overly folksy/anti-introspective notions of how actions are realized, but doesn't it seem that any praxis is a result of simply repeating behaviors, over and over? For example, as AA (ostensibly) put it, fake it til you make it. I realize this is so so much easier said than done, but haven't some of the most wildest, unimaginable transformations, good and bad, happened in people from consistently being forced to act a certain way? Whether in the Wake Forest experiments where shy, reclusive students were forced to be boisterous and giddy over and over, resulting in them becoming extroverts, or Nazi battalions forced to kill Jews over and over again until their largest complaint wasn't the psychological trauma of murdering and innocent person but the quality of meat rations they were receiving? Again, this is wildly easier said than done, and I certainly don't see myself as the presenter of a common-sense one-step fix-all solution that you SOMEHOW missed in the process of trying everything else. All I can tell you is that, as the old Welsh proverb goes, dyfal donc a dyrr y garreg- constant blows break the stone.

    I used to be horribly desperate for a female companion, and I could never seem to ween myself from the thought that I would die miserable and alone. And the more I kept trying to replace my thoughts of having a companion, the more I ended up thinking about it. It was useless. It took two breakups and one cataclysmicly failed relationship to get me to the point where I could uproot the obsessive-compulsive desire for a girlfriend and replace them with contentment and the ability to see the joys of a single life. So I make no pretense, but do tell you it is possible. Heck, even Aristotle loosely had the same notion.

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    1. Well, it's certainly true that actions shape character just as character shapes actions. But I'd make two points in response.

      One is that, while actions shape character, they don't shape it the same way that constant blows shape a stone. Character -- that is, that element of the soul -- reacts; and every soul is different, and reacts in different ways. There isn't a straight (heh) cause-effect relationship between what behavior we practice and what effect it will have upon our psyches. Not that the relationship is random; it is intricately structured, but that structure is, exactly, so intricate that I don't think mere repetition of behavior is consistently of use. Habits are important, but what forms a habit in one person will make another person sick of the very idea.

      The second point, which is kind of a sub-point of the first, is that for some people the faking it becomes an enemy of making it. It's true that we must sometimes force ourselves to do things as a preparation to really doing them. For me, being very introverted, socializing (especially with people I don't know well) is a good example: I have to act friendlier and more comfortable than I feel, in order to get to the point of friendliness and comfort. But there is an extremely subtle difference between this kind of preparatory approach -- a pre-tending, if you have a taste for linguistic puns -- and being dishonest with yourself. I find that when it comes to sexuality, that dishonesty is all too easy, and even more so for Christians than for others, since the Christian code of chastity is more demanding (and since it is primarily in Christian circles that the social opprobrium against unchastity survives). Since dishonesty is the root of hypocrisy, and indeed puts us in danger of losing the whole link between our souls and the reality of right and wrong, I think we need to be even warier of dishonesty than most other sins.

      Speaking of linguistics, though, two points for the Welsh proverb. :)

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    2. I think young mudblood is quite right: repeating something as an artificial imposition is just as likely to make you sick of it and buck the whole thing in defiance. I think of some of my schoolyard chums who at high school graduations, after 12 years of the priests daily checking to make sure their hair was combed and parted in proper 1950s conformist fashion...shaking out their locks and messing them up as much as possible as if to say "no more of this!" So much for the idea that repetitive action ingrains some sort of habit...

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