Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity

O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal; grant this, O heavenly Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Review: "God and the Gay Christian" by Matthew Vines

I realize that it is not customary to begin a review with an explanation of why you perhaps shouldn't be writing it. Nevertheless, the point of a review is to evaluate a book for potential readers, and doing so honestly is obligatory. I wouldn't feel I had fulfilled that obligation unless I stated frankly from the outset that I may not be able to evaluate this book objectively.

In one sense, nobody can do that -- everybody has a position on these topics these days -- but the pertinent reason is that I'm in this book. Matthew Vines refers to Stephen Long's blog, Sacred Tension (a fairly well-known blog in the gay Christian mesocosm*), and specifically to the post Falling In Love. It so happens that I am "Andrew."** I hasten to add that Stephen's portrait of our relationship is true (though I think it rather more generous and gentle towards me than I deserve), and also that I don't think that Mr. Vines has misrepresented it, though it feels odd to read about it "out of context," as it were -- but that's inevitable.

I don't believe that this has adversely affected my ability to judge the book; if I did, I'd probably have sent the advance copy back with an apology. But I would feel less than fully honest if I withheld this information from my own readers, so that they can come to their own conclusions about whether I've judged Mr. Vines' work fairly, and why or why not.

This review will of necessity be woefully incomplete. I hadn't read more than halfway through God and the Gay Christian before I became convinced that the only really adequate review of its contents would be a book in itself. I haven't written that book, and have cut out a lot of things I would have liked to put into this review for the sake of brevity; but the brute fact is that the questions Vines raises here are vital ones, not only for life as a homosexually attracted believer, but for a Christian perspective on sexuality in general. That is a sizable topic even in its own right, and when we consider its implications for the Church's ability to evangelize the world, it becomes colossal.

The book is coming out on May 6 of this year, via Convergent Books, and will (I gather) be available both in bookstores and online.

UPDATE: The book has actually been available since April 22nd. Derp.

The Strong Points

I haven't watched the hour-long video that Matthew Vines released a couple of years ago on this same subject, but it went viral, and I think I can see why. His writing is highly accessible, and he makes his points with concision. He writes confidently, but without rancor -- a welcome change of tone in this debate, in which both sides are very much to blame for the mutual bitterness and resent that frequently animates gay-Christian dialogue -- and his power to do that is fairly remarkable, considering the difficulties that every gay believer tends to find himself in, both interior and exterior.

More than that, Vines' devotion, and particularly his passion for evangelism, shines through in this book. He strives to be faithful to the Scriptures, when it would have been far easier to simply dismiss them as incorrect or irrelevant, on this topic at the least (nor would he have been unable to find churches that would support him). I think his refusal to discard the Bible in that way laudable. And he pinpoints one of the basic problems with the approach to this topic that conservative Christians all too characteristically take, in the opening paragraph of chapter seven:
I am far from the only gay Christian who has heard the claim that gay people will not inherit the kingdom of God. That message is plastered on protest signs at gay-pride parades. It is shouted by roaming street preachers at busy intersections and on college campuses. The result is that, for many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, all they have heard about the kingdom of God is that they won't be in it.***
I admit I fundamentally disagree with his solution, so to speak, but his statement of the problem is exact -- and, to a well-formed Christian conscience, should be shaming.

His analysis of the story of Sodom, one of the most famous of the "clobber passages," is also more or less sound; and the distinction he draws between lustful indulgence and authentic relationships between people of the same sex, while I don't think it goes as far as he thinks it does, is nevertheless an important one.

He also raises an extremely important point in chapter 9 in his discussion of the image of God: that gay sexuality can't be reduced to the desire for gay sex, and that to do so is destructive. I've read a lot of traditionally-minded Christians either claiming, or seeming to claim, that a homosexual person's sexuality as a whole is misdirected, not just the specific desire for sexual union with another man or another woman. But sexuality is more than simply sexual desire; Vines rightly says that it involves our capacity for relationship in general (consciously or unconsciously echoing the Catechism in paragraphs 2331 and 2332), and the Church does not and should not condemn a person's entire sexuality in that way. And that realization has to be part of a life-giving, Christian view of sexuality, whether it approves of gay sex or not.

The Weak Points

Nevertheless, Vines' argument in general is seriously unsound, in three basic ways: incomplete information, unsubstantiated assumptions, and invalid reasoning.

I do not suggest that this is an effect of deliberate distortion or deceit on his part. That would be an exceedingly serious charge to level at anybody, let alone a fellow Christian, and one whose experience I can sympathize with a great deal: I'm a gay believer too, after all, and I was raised in the Reformed tradition from which he hails. I am here dealing strictly in the things he says. I propose to take him at his word when he asserts that he says them because he thinks they are true -- and I have deep respect for that.

Still, the argument is gravely faulty. To begin with, almost his entire argument is characterized by two serious fallacies: first, that modern understandings (notably of sexual orientation and gender relations) are correct simply because they are modern -- the mistake of "chronological snobbery"; and second, that the doctrine of gender complementarity means nothing more than anatomical compatibility.

Taking his treatment of gender as our example, the only attempt Vines makes to demonstrate that an ancient approach to it is wrong is to appeal to the fact that most Christians today (that is, most American Christians) don't believe it. It's quite true that the language of Scripture was affected by the culture it was written in -- but then, so are our own ideas about gender. He gives no reason to trust the ideas about gender that are popular in our day rather than the ones that were popular back then. And the same lack of a critical approach to our own era's thinking comes up again and again. In principle, a case could surely be made for the characteristic contemporary view. But Vines doesn't in fact make a case for it; it operates simply as a consistent assumption. (The closest he comes is in an extremely disputable exegesis of Galatians 3.28, where he takes the statement that "in Christ there is neither male nor female" to be a criticism of patriarchy as such -- but he does not provide anything like adequate evidence to back this up.)

Similarly, a great deal of his interpretation of both Leviticus and the New Testament relies on the notion that the perceived feminization of men who were the passive partners in anal intercourse was considered disgraceful, and those who inflicted it were disgraced for doing so -- which is quite true, but which he explains solely in terms of the rampant misogyny of the time, without considering the possibility that, for the authors of Scripture at least, sexual complementarity might have played a role as well. The idea that, misogyny aside, there might nevertheless be some kind of disgrace in treating a man like a woman or vice versa is never even raised, let alone refuted. He rightly distinguishes between a belief in complementarity and a misogynistic outlook, but fails to consider whether there is anything more to complementarity than human anatomy -- whether gender is also a spiritual fact, and not exclusively a physical and psychological fact -- which might have a profound effect upon our view of gender relations: which, in the traditional view and especially in the Catholic view (as articulated in Theology of the Body), does have precisely a determinant role in sexual ethics.

Vines' data on the stability of sexual orientation is incomplete and poorly interpreted. He takes the collapse of the ex-gay movement, in addition to the testimony of the APA et al. that reorientation therapies don't work, as more or less conclusive proof that sexual orientation is fixed, a premise on which a great deal of his argument is constructed. But this does not follow; sexual fluidity is equally well known to the APA, and the fact that something cannot be changed by trying to make it change, doesn't mean that it is immutable -- for the same reason that pulling on the top of a sapling won't make it grow faster, yet that does not prove that saplings don't grow.

One of the largest and most basic problems, though, can be stated in relation to the following passage:
Mandatory celibacy for gay Christians differs from any other kind of Christian self-denial, including voluntary celibacy for some straight Christians. ... For straight Christians, abstinence outside marriage affirms the goodness both of marriage and of sex within marriage. But for gay Christians, mandatory celibacy affirms something different: the sinfulness of every possible expression of their sexuality. ... Functionally, it is castration. Such an absolute rejection of one's sexuality might make sense if one's sexual desires were oriented exclusively toward abusive or lustful practices. It makes considerably less sense when at least some of one's desires are oriented toward a covenantal relationship of mutual love ...****
I won't listen to those who claim that all homosexual practice is degraded, an assertion that is demonstrably false -- one has only to look at loving gay couples to know that. But when once we admit that, yes, some people may be called through no choice of their own, yet by the nature of their sexual desires, to abstain totally from those desires, then we must logically admit that the doctrine that homosexual sex is intrinsically wrong still makes sense even in the context of a modern approach to sexual orientation.

The traditional doctrine might, of course, be false, even if it does make sense. But that must be proven or disproven on other grounds; the grounds of the suffering it causes are defined to be irrelevant to its truth or falsity by the nature of the argument. For someone whose desires are oriented toward something that Christians en masse agree is wrong for one reason or another -- say, polygamy, or pedophilia, or objectum sexuality***** -- is apt to experience the same trials of frustration, loneliness, and misunderstanding that afflict a queer experience. If we can dismiss the traditional doctrine of homosexuality as unwholesome on the grounds of these sufferings, then they are equally valid reasons to dismiss them for other cases; but if suffering is not an adequate reason by itself to dismantle those doctrines, then it isn't relevant to this discussion either.

I don't say this out of any insensitivity to what I'm proposing. I am all too keenly aware of the cost of this particular discipleship. It's true that going without sex, in itself, is not the agony or even the inconvenience that many people suppose, and it's also true that some people don't find celibacy much of a cross to bear. But some of us do, and it is those who find it a torment (whether from within or from without) who are, as it were, at stake here. The scorched earth style of what some churches are pleased to call their fellowship, and the "put up and shut up" attitude evinced by many Christians, are grossly inappropriate, and deserve frank and unequivocal condemnation as being utterly unchristlike whenever they manifest themselves; and I myself have endured the way of this cross, and fallen not only on my knees but on my face under its weight; even now I am daily crucified upon the absence of the man that I love.

But I love the truth too. I often stray, but altering the path I'm walking on is another matter, and I can't do that over thorns and stones, however savage. The presence of such things is not a sign that this is not what God has for us: the Cross and the lives of the saints teach us that. They were stoned; they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented (of whom the world was not worthy).

I don't for one moment suppose that Vines himself would do anything else, if he were once convinced that this were God's will. He is in fact convinced that God's will is something else, and no one should presume to cast doubt on his motives when the only thing he's done is disagree with a particular traditional doctrine. But the plain fact is, when rigorously analyzed, his case just isn't adequate: it is riddled with faulty reasoning, unquestioned assumptions, and incomplete data, and these things are of the very stuff of his necessary premises and most important steps of argument.

Is It Worth Reading?

It depends on why you're reading it. If you are looking for a sound historical, linguistic, logical, and Biblical study, I would have to say no. His training isn't sufficient in these areas (though I'd be quite pleased to see what he did with it if it were -- what, perhaps, he will do with it some day in the future when it is?), and the sources he relies upon appear in many cases to be either incomplete or tendentious.

However, if what you're looking for is a readable work that does express many of the exemplary contemporary arguments for a gay-affirming interpretation of Scripture, I think this is a very important book indeed, and one that will probably have a widespread and lasting influence. I am of the opinion that Vines has given gravely wrong answers to the questions that he has raised, but he has raised exactly the right questions: addressing matters that are both important in themselves and very much on the minds and hearts of the rising generation, gay and straight, and even Christian and non-Christian. Any coherent, thorough articulation of traditional Christian beliefs about homosexuality is going to have to go a lot further than "God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" -- further even than, "Look, read this Christopher West book" -- and it's going to have to do so in a way that addresses the same issues that God and the Gay Christian addresses, and with just as much clarity and appeal.

**Naturally I obtained his permission before revealing what he chose to keep private when he wrote the relevant post. We agreed that, insofar as it is our story, we may both tell it.

***Chapter 7, "Will Gay People Inherit the Kingdom of God?", p. 119. Page numbers in the published edition may not correspond exactly.

****Chapter 1, "A Tree And Its Fruit", pp. 18-19, emphasis mine.

*****I have deliberately chosen examples that are, in my judgment, dissimilar from both homosexuality and one another for this line of argument. This is partly because I think a diverse set of examples strengthens the argument. 

     It is also partly in the forlorn hope of quelling the firestorm that will probably arise from having brought up pedophilia: pro-gay people furiously denouncing me for implying that they are the same, and and anti-gay people just as furiously agreeing with me that they are the same; when in fact I do not think that they are the same at all and, having been the victim of someone else's pedophilia on the one hand, and being gay myself on the other hand, am outraged at the conflation of the two.
     If you're unfamiliar with objectum sexuality and, reasonably enough, scared to google it, you can read a rational treatment of the subject here, and an inappropriate and hilarious treatment here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Music: William Byrd and Psalters

I'd like to wish everyone a happy Solemnity of the Annunciation. Enjoy your day of not having to fast.

I have posted two songs for today, quite different ones. I wanted to post both, but I was having a hard time coming up with a pretext to do so, since I normally only post one when I put music up here. (To those of you rational human beings who are thinking, "Uh, why isn't 'Because you feel like it' a good enough reason to post two songs?", shh.) Then I remembered that this, in addition to being one of the most important feasts of the Church's year -- indeed, in one sense, the root of every other feast, as it marks the beginning of the Incarnation -- it is also one of the feasts that Catholic and Orthodox Christians celebrate on the same date. So my excuse is a celebration of that fact.

Appropriately, the former of these songs is a piece of Latin polyphony by William Byrd, one of the finest composers of the English Renaissance and a convert from Anglicanism to Catholicism, while the latter is by the nomadic, anarchist band Psalters, whose album The Divine Liturgy of the Wretched Exiles is heavily influenced by Orthodox motifs. This one in particular incorporates the Trisagion or "Thrice-Holy," traditionally chanted at some point during the liturgy of the Scriptures (often before the Epistle is read, but it seems to vary in different places).

I couldn't get the video settings that I know how to work with to cooperate, so the second one is at this link.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Reblog: Aaron Taylor; And Also Some Other Things

Aaron Taylor, a regular contributor to Spiritual Friendship (which you can find among the Sites That Rock Reasonably Hard on the right hand side of your computer screen) and Ethika Politika (which you can find wherever internets provide it), has recently published an excellent article, suggesting a possible direction for -- well, I can only think to call it "sanctified homoerotic love" -- a highly misleading title, but everything else seems even more misleading in one way or another. I think a perusal of that article, Christianity and Same-Sex Eros, will clarify it. And anyway he's a good writer and you should read his stuff.

Also, I have recently received an advance copy of Matthew Vines' book, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. Vines, whom I have touched on before here at Mudblood Catholic, is one of the more prominent figures in what's sometimes called "Side A" theology, i.e. the belief that God blesses same-sex marriages just like opposite-sex ones. I'm planning to write a review of it, hopefully before Easter, and I ask for your prayers, both to get off my duff and do it, and to read and write with a just and attentive mind.

Also also, you should listen to the podcast Welcome to Night Vale. I just started listening to it two days ago, and I have fallen in love with it, carnally.

Also also also, happy Solemnity of Saint Joseph.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Five Quick Takes


I am intending to blog somewhat less this month: between Lent (turns out the Anglican Use customs are rather stricter than the Roman proper, and are kind of whooping me) and work and a number of other things, I have been finding myself bone-weary a surprising amount of the time for weeks. Among that number of other things was going up to Newark last month to help in creating a resource thingy for chastity, of which some of the finished videos can be viewed here. It's a very cool crowd of people, including Melinda Selmys, Joey Prever, Eve Tushnet, Joshua Gonnerman, and Ron Belgau (both of the latter are contributors to Spiritual Friendship, which Mr. Belgau helped to found). I'm looking forward to the finished product.

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The decision to work on the internet is, always, a decision to deal with the ignorance and irrationality of the human race. I don't recommend it to anyone who does not either have, or wish by great pains to develop, vast resources of patient, loving courtesy. I work for a cafe, and I find it hard enough there not to burst out in angry, scathing comments more or less continuously -- listening to the same foolish or insulting or merely pointless remarks, over and over again, for hours; and there, you at least have a human face confronting you, reminding you (hopefully) of the sanctity of the image of God that you are dealing with.

Okay, most of them are human faces.

I admit that I actually find it easier to be charitable online, because you can take however much time you need to instead of reacting in the heat of the moment; but it's never simply easy. Love is a lifelong project, and longer.

Of course, we're all insufferable sometimes and to someone. I think it was C. S. Lewis who speculated that one of the disciplinary aspects of Purgatory might well be perceiving ourselves as others perceived us while on earth. Trying to see ourselves from the perspective of someone who dislikes us intensely -- and perhaps not altogether unfairly -- can be a salutary experience. Though it is admittedly an acquired taste.

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On the subject of losing faith in humanity, this is a terrible, stupid thing that exists. I apologize for enlightening you. But I couldn't stand being along in knowing. I stared at the opening sentence of that article for a solid minute, shouting, "What!? What do those words mean!?"

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To revive your spirits after that ghastly revelation, here is one of my favorite Latin renderings of a psalm (specifically, Psalm 115, known by its first line in the Vulgate translation, Non Nobis Domine). It was composed by Perotin, one of the few Mediaeval musicians whose name has come down to us -- Saint Hildegaard of Bingen is another. Dating to the very end of the twelfth century and the opening decades of the thirteenth, Perotin was one of the earliest composers of polyphonic music, a highly significant artistic advance upon the beautiful but spare Gregorian chant. This piece in particular is among my favorites; I'd love to hear it sung in person. (The artwork used in the video is drawn from the Pre-Raphaelites, a nineteenth-century school of painters and poets, whom I am also extremely fond of but who are quite unrelated.)

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Theology of the Body is going surprisingly well for me so far, and I had a good conversation about it with a friend of mine last night. There's something a little intimidating about it -- not the length, I always knew that was intimidating; something more like a clearer, or maybe it would be better to say a deeper, vision of the truth than I've hitherto had. And the truth can be an unsettling thing, especially when we are attached to an incomplete version of it. Humbling myself to be receptive to that is, well, hard work. Please be praying for me.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Quotation: The Original Hitchhiker Radio Scripts

This is taken from an introduction-like essay written by Douglas Adams for the printed scripts of the radio series The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The radio show is in fact the most primitive form of Hitch-Hiker's. It predated the terrible movie by a good twenty-seven years, and the earliest of the novels by a good one years. It doesn't have anything in particular to do with being gay or Catholic, but it's all about writing and is highly entertaining in its own right. It is, ostensibly, written in answer to the question -- which, in fact, few if any authors are capable of answering quite truthfully -- "Where do you get your ideas?"

The story goes that I first had the idea for The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy while lying drunk in a field in Innsbruck (or 'Spain' as the BBC TV publicity department authoritatively has it, probably because it's easier to spell).

Apparently I was hitch-hiking around Europe at the time, and had a copy of The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to Europe ... with me at the time. I didn't have Europe On (as it was then) Five Dollars A Day because I simply wasn't in that kind of financial league.

My condition was brought on not so much by having had too much to drink, as much as having had a bit to drink and nothing to eat for two days. So as I lay there in this field, the stars spun lazily around my head, and just before I nodded off, it occurred to me that someone ought to write a Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy as well.

... However, I wouldn't like to create the impression that all a writer has to do is sit in a field cramming himself with a couple of Stella Artoises whereupon a passing idea will instantly pounce on him, and then it's all over the bar typing. An idea is only an idea.

An actual script, on the other hand, is hundreds of ideas bashed around, screwed up, thrown into the bin, fished out of the bin an hour later and folded up into thick wads and put under the leg of the table to stop it wobbling. And then the same again for the next line, and the next, and so on, until you have a whole page or the table finally keels over.

The problem is you can't go and rave it up in a field every time you need an idea, so you just have to sit there and think of the little bastards. And if you can't think of them you just have to sit there. Or think of an excuse for doing something else. That's quite easy. I'm very good at thinking of reasons for suddenly having a quick bath or a Bovril sandwich. Which is why truthful explanations of how writers get ideas tend to be rather dull:
     I sat and stared out of the window for a while, trying to think of a good name for a character. I told myself that, as a reward, I would let myself go and make a Bovril sandwich once I'd thought of it.
     I stared out of the window some more and thought that probably what I really needed to help get the creative juices going was to have a Bovril sandwich now, which presented me with a problem that I could only successfully resolve by thinking it over in the bath.
     An hour, a bath, three Bovril sandwiches, another bath and a cup of coffee later, I realized that I still hadn't thought of a good name for a character, and decided that I would try calling him Zaphod Beeblebrox and see if that worked.
     I sat and stared out of the window for a while, trying to think of something for him to say ...
... Reading through what I've written so far, I feel I must correct the impression that it's all done with sandwiches, because there's also a lot of playing the guitar very loudly involved as well.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Queer Identity, Part IV: Betterosexuality

"First of all," began the priest on the other side of the grille, "you're not gay."

I knew what he meant (and he went on to say it): that no one is reducible to their sexual orientation. Not that he would have been fond of the phrase sexual orientation. Still the way he put it just wasn't helpful. I'd had the lecture before, so I wasn't shocked, but I was -- well, bored.

Until recently, most of the language about language that I'd come across on the subject, from Catholics anyway, was about how no one should identify as gay, or even use the word, or even think the word, or even be caught dead in a field with someone who had once thought the word.

"Then I spoke the Deplorable Word. A moment later I was the only living thing beneath the sun."

Speaking of oneself as straight, however, seemed to get a pass, at least until just recently. Marc Barnes, author of the Bad Catholic blog on Patheos, wrote a post last year in which he attacked the very idea of heterosexuality:
Heterosexuality, understood as a sexual attraction for the opposite sex (as an attraction for women or men in general) makes the object of my attraction unreal. Woman as such does not exist ... In reality, there are only particular women, just as there are only particular men, and every instance of sexual attraction is attraction to a particular person. ... The idea of an attraction to "women in general" trades the particular person for the thought-construct of "women in general" ... This is not to say that it is impossible to be attracted to the opposite sex as such. We may be, and in varying degrees. Indeed, I would argue that attraction to the opposite sex as such is the very modus operandi of pornography, which works to reduce a person to their sexual attributes. No, this is to say that to be attracted to the opposite sex as such is inadequate, immature and perverse.*
It's refreshing to encounter someone being so consistent; and he deserves credit, too, for pointing out the ways in which a heteronormative approach to Christian morals has a tendency to falsely exempt straight people from blame -- a little further on, he remarks, "I have experienced the particularly odd phenomenon that Christian men who watch pornography find some justification in watching heterosexual pornography, as if to say 'my attraction to a pixelated reduction of a person is more normal than your gay attraction to a pixelated reduction of a human person.'" Michael W. Hannon wrote a column for First Things last month in which he advanced a similar argument, calling for the total dismantling of the idea of sexual orientation, and that Christians should ally ourselves in this respect to the elite among queer theorists like Michel Foucault, who have long considered all sexual orientations nothing more than mental constructs. Similarly, at Crisis Magazine, Deacon Jim Russell has criticized the inadequacy of sexual orientation as divided from loving a particular person.

There are definitely problems with the straight-gay essentialist dichotomy, whether espoused as an attack on traditional morals or as a defense of them. In my experience, people on all sides see the limitations of it: on becoming a Catholic in college, I found among fellow Catholics a great dislike for reducing people to nothing but their sexual orientation; in fact, they disliked such reductionism almost as much as the lesbians and gay men I'd known in the Pride Alliance disliked such reductionism. And the ranking of people that such thinking can lead to, as though there were some intrinsic inferiority -- rather than plain hard luck -- in being gay, is unchristian and a little bit silly. After all, there is no command in Scripture, "Thou shalt be heterosexual"; and I've yet to hear anybody claim that being straight was their own clever idea.**

However, I think the sort of dismantling that Barnes et al. have proposed is kind of impractical, and that it too lightly dismisses the reason that such language was created in the first place. For instance, both seem to claim that the very existence of the words, and their use, springs from and necessarily involves an essentialist understanding of sexual orientation. Hannon in particular goes further, saying that such ideas were totally foreign to (and implies that they would certainly have been rejected by) our ancestors.

I'm not so sure of any of these claims. It's true that modern ideas of sexual orientation didn't exist until the nineteenth century; but that does not bind all ideas that involve the concept of sexual orientation to the same network of theories in which the concept first arose. Psychotherapy does not require Freudian premises in order to exist, just because Freud was a dominant pioneer of psychotherapy.

And after all, while our ancestors might have been readier than much of contemporary culture to concede that nearly anybody might dabble in same-sex activity, they would surely have recognized that there were still general tendencies and tastes among human beings, about sexuality as much as about anything else -- whether they bothered to name them or not. (Dante's treatment of the penance of the Lustful in Purgatorio XXVI certainly suggests that such a recognition was there, in his own time and place at the least.) I don't think it either wrong or useless to have a word for such tastes, and heterosexual and homosexual will do as well as any other. They have, too, the advantage of already being common currency.

I also feel that the perspective these authors have set forth is a little too hard on heterosexuality. Yes, mere attraction to the opposite sex is inadequate as a basis for sexual ethics. Now, it does carry with it the advantages of normalcy, in the sense that most people are in fact attracted to the opposite sex, so that most of what people say about it will (probably) make sense to you without any weird conversion factors -- applying sexual teachings aimed at a predominantly straight audience to a queer experience can feel kind of like converting between Farenheit and Celsius in your head -- and you don't (probably) have to endure the trial of feeling like a freak, or at least not because of your sexual orientation. But that of course does not make heterosexuals better than other people.

Picture offered without comment.

Nonetheless, I think it is going too far and risking too much misunderstanding to refer to heterosexuality as a perversion. It's true that merely being "attracted to women" is, so to speak, an incomplete experience: a man cannot form a relationship with "women" in general, not even the most ardent polygamist. And it is only in the context of relationship that sexuality becomes fully human, by the integration of the animal and the spiritual elements of human nature.

All the same, the simple fact that he has a general disposition to be attracted to the opposite sex, and that this disposition should manifest itself outside the existence of a specifically marital relationship -- to put it bluntly, the fact that a dude can and will get horny whether he's married or not -- is not in itself perverse. It's part of the animal element of us, and manifests itself quite apart from our voluntary choice (as men who are or have been teenagers can readily attest). This needs to be taken up into the virtue of chastity, whether by disciplining and sublimating it for a celibate renunciation of sexual pleasure, or by disciplining and sacramentalizing it for the passion of the marriage bed; but the fact that it exists beforehand in an undisciplined state isn't immoral. It's part of the raw material of the human person: that it is precisely raw rather than finished material doesn't make it bad, just incomplete.

Of course, indulging it in its raw state is bad, and (here I join with Barnes particularly) there are those -- especially in entertainment and porn -- who have it in their economic interest to train us to look no further, and even to actively resist the full humanization of our sexuality: to think of sex primarily in terms of a pleasure, a thing, rather than as a uniquely pleasurable (and, in a way, mystical) mode of relating to a particular person. But we all know what they say about the oldest profession. Objectification and the chattelizing of human persons for sexual pleasure have been around since the fall of man; the invention of the categories of sexual orientation can't be blamed for that.

I am, as many of my enemies and friends alike will probably tell you, a bit of a drama queen. But for once, I actually think the solution here is to chill out. People experience the world in this or that way, and that's fine. Probably the idea of sexual orientation does have an expiration date; and that's quite irrelevant to Catholic theology, which concerns itself with actions rather than with dispositions when discussing right and wrong.*** But as long as it is around, I don't think we need to bother to deconstruct it. We may; it isn't sacrosanct. Yet while it is around it has its uses, not least in providing us with convenient terms to sum up individual persons' experiences of sexuality. And insofar as sexuality is, as the above authors have all insisted, personal, I think the usefulness of such terms outweighs their artificiality.

But then the Ghost of Subjunctive Past showed up and told me to stay strong on 'if it were.' ****

*Personally I find the omission of the Oxford comma more perverse than any amount of heterosexuality (little taste though I have for the latter), but if I were to divert myself into linguistic and orthographical channels now, the flood would never be dammed.

**I am not here addressing the ex-gay movement, whose claims about orientation are slightly different. I am highly distrustful of those claims, for a number of reasons that I have outlined before; but it's a separate conversation.

***This isn't to say that considering individual moral cases in their individuality (what is technically called casuistry) is unimportant, or that a person's motives aren't relevant to morality -- of course they are. It is to say that the general tenor of a person's desires, while they are important to a person's own individual spiritual state, don't effect the intrinsic rightness or wrongness of an action, whether in sexuality or elsewhere. Or, to grossly oversimplify, wanting or not wanting something isn't what makes it okay or not okay.

****xkcd 1108.

Monday, March 3, 2014

A Suggestion for Lent

Ash Wednesday is just the day after tomorrow. If you haven't yet decided what to do for a Lenten discipline (and remember, you don't necessarily have to give something up -- the point is to do something that fosters spiritual growth, and fasting is one highly appropriate means for that, not the sole means), I'd invite you to consider reading Theology of the Body with me. I have tried to read the tome before, and it has defeated me -- it is a colossus, both in subtlety and in sheer size. However, I couldn't help noticing all the same that any time I would read part of it, even if I barely understood what Blessed John Paul II was talking about, I just sort of felt better after reading it. That seems like a good sign.

I'm too lazy and/or ADHD to do it alone, though I have one of my tweeple joining me for it. I'm using the Waldstein translation, which is the only one I'm familiar with -- if you want that one specifically and are shopping offline, look for a big honking volume with Michelangelo's Creation of Adam on the front. If you would like to read along, I've made the following schedule for myself, leaving out Sundays (partly because Lenten disciplines aren't required on Sundays, and partly because, given the size and difficulty of the material, catch-up days will probably be necessary):

March 5th (Ash Wednesday): pp. 131-146 (audiences 1-4)
March 6th: pp. 146-156 (audiences 5-7)
March 7th: pp. 156-169 (audiences 8-10)
March 8th: pp. 169-183 (audiences 11-14.4)
First Sunday in Lent
March 10th: pp. 183-196 (audiences 14.5-17.3)
March 11th: pp. 196-210 (audiences 17.4-21.1)
March 12th: pp. 210-223 (audiences 21.2-23)
March 13th: pp. 225-238 (audiences 24-26)
March 14th: pp. 238-251 (audiences 27-30.4)
March 15th: pp. 251-263 (audiences 30.5-33)
Second Sunday in Lent
March 17th: pp. 264-278 (audiences 34-37)
March 18th: pp. 278-297 (audiences 38-42)
March 19th (Solemnity of St. Joseph): pp. 297-309 (audiences 43-45)
March 20th: pp. 309-325 (audiences 46-49)
March 21st: pp. 326-338 (audiences 50-52)
March 22nd: pp. 339-353 (audiences 53-57.3)
Third Sunday in Lent
March 24th: pp. 354-364 (audiences 57.4-59)
March 25th (Solemnity of the Annunciation): pp. 364-378 (audiences 60-63)
March 26th: pp. 379-394 (audiences 64-67)
March 27th: pp. 394-408 (audiences 68-71)
March 28th: pp. 409-422 (audiences 72-75)
March 29th: pp. 422-436 (audiences 76-79)
Laetare Sunday
March 31st: pp. 436-453 (audiences 80-84.7)
April 1st: pp. 453-462 (audiences 84.8-86)
April 2nd: pp. 465-478 (audiences 87-90)
April 3rd: pp. 479-491 (audiences 91-93)
April 4th: pp. 491-507 (audiences 94-96)
April 5th: pp. 507-518 (audiences 97-100.4)
Passiontide Sunday
April 7th: pp. 519-529 (audiences 100.5-102)
April 8th: pp. 531-547 (audiences 103-107)
April 9th: pp. 548-558 (audience 108)
April 10th: pp. 558-573 (audiences 109-110)
April 11th: pp. 574-587 (audiences 111-112)
April 12th: pp. 586-598 (audiences 113-114)
Palm Sunday
April 14th: pp. 598-615 (audiences 115-117)
April 15th: pp. 617-630 (audiences 118-122)
April 16th: pp. 630-647 (audiences 123-128)
April 17th (Maundy Thursday): pp. 647-663 (audiences 129-133)