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.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Five Quick Takes

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The assault of Christmas has begun, complete with terrible music. I don’t hate Christmas music per se, but I find that the selection played in public is mostly of that segment I do hate. Generally I prefer religious to secular Christmas songs, not on principle, but simply because there are lots of religious songs in the genre that I like and few secular ones. (That, and some of the secular ones, like Baby It’s Cold Outside, are frankly creepy.) I strongly prefer something that has a mysterious, almost a haunting, note to it, something Mediæval; I’ve always found that note to evoke certain qualities of Christmas—the sense of nestling together with cold outside and warmth within, the traditional magical associations, and the grand mystery of God entering his own creation secretly in the dead of night—which the sugary, sentimental music about presents and Santa and family just fall so far short of.

The movie The Santa Clause, of all things, actually presented a surprisingly complex and winsome picture of the mythos that incorporated a sense of ancientry, that taste of spice and well as sugar, that even a secular Christmas needs in order to keep from being merely just another toothaches-and-hangovers festival. Loreena McKennitt’s enchanting album To Drive the Cold Winter Away does the same; my family opens presents to it every year.


And Thanksgiving also exists. I did a Thanksgayving celebration last year, with a small group of friends who lived away from their families. (My family usually observes the holiday on the following Saturday, since both my sisters are married and have large families-in-law, so the scheduling is a headache otherwise.) I’m not sure what I’ll do this year; possibly, bask in my lack of obligations.


I saw IT: Chapter One with a friend in Pittsburgh, near Halloween. I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know exactly how faithful it was to the source material, but it was a pretty good film; I give it a B+.

It got me thinking about horror as a genre. What is it we go to horror looking for? I mean, to be scared, obviously, but why and how? I mean, you can read or watch true crime stuff, which is often pretty frightening yet clearly touches a different nerve; even when the antagonist of a horror movie is a ‘mundane’ threat like a serial killer, there’s always something else, some element of being beyond our normal frame of reference, that makes it more than just a story about a crime. Whether it’s a fantastic element like a ghost or a witch or a vampire, a sci-fi element like an alien or an AI, or merely a realistic yet unknown element like a cult or a lunatic, horror seems to appeal to our sense of being unprotected from an Other.

This, to me, makes it a perfect vehicle for exploring religion. Not only in the sense that sincerely religious characters make excellent horror villains (and excellent heroes, too, like Vanessa Ives and Ethan Chandler in Penny Dreadful), but in the sense that horror, I suspect by its nature, involves itself with some kind of intrusion into the known world by an unknown, which is very largely what religion deals in as well: certainly Semitic religion, such as Judaism and Christianity, and several varieties of neo-paganism as well. It’s said that the most frightening thing to the mind is the unknown, and there’s nothing more incomprehensible or uncontrollable than Deity.


I could do with prayer, Mudbloods. I’m not in great shape, spiritually speaking. I have no one to thank but myself, and in fact God’s arranged things so that I don’t have to deal with a tithe of the consequences of my actions; but I do need to work on my problems all the same, and one of those problems is not praying well, or much. So, I could use your help.


If my check on Friday is as good as I think it’s going to be, I’ll be able to afford not only Christmas presents, but my next tattoo. I want to get an IHC monogram (a representation of the name of Jesus as written in Greek letters), over my left pec. I have two already: on my left shoulder, the cross and M from the back of the miraculous medal, and on my right, my two favorite lines from Dante’s Purgatorio.1 The monogram would be my third, and I want the sign for Virgo as my fourth, maybe on one of my calves. I’d like to get a few more after that; we’ll see.

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1The lines in question are:
‘Sovegna vos a temps de ma dolor,’
Poi s’ascose nel foco che gl’affina.
These roughly translate to: ‘“Think ye betimes of how I suffer here,” / Then plunged him in the fire which refines them’ (Purg. XXVI.147-148); the words are spoken by a soul in Purgatory, coming to the edge of the purifying fires that sanctify the Lustful to beg Dante for his prayers, and then casting himself back into the penance that strengthens his love for God. I had the first line done in black and the second in red, in imitation of the instructions in a missal or sacramentary (text printed in black is what to say, and text in red is what to do). This doubles as an allusion to T. S. Eliot, another favorite author of mine, who quoted these lines in several of his poems.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Dr Esolen's Disastrous Advice

It’s easy to focus on the thing that feeds your neurosis, and pretend the other aspect of our relationship with God doesn’t exist, or focus solely on the aspect which comforts and corrects you, and look away from the part that too-easily sharpens in your hands. A lot of people’s spiritual journey within the Church is about realizing that the kind of spirituality that feeds their self-destructive tendencies isn’t the only kind there is—and what’s striking to me is that so many kinds of Christian spirituality can be so destructive, depending on what you yourself fear and what you tend to misunderstand.

—Eve Tushnet, Catholic Horror and the Two Theologies of ‘The Witch’

The room is on fire as she’s fixing her hair …

—Julian Casablancas, ‘Reptilia’
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Trigger warning: this post deals with, and includes footage of, violent parental abuse.

Last time I posted on Dr Anthony Esolen’s post at Crisis titled Open Your Eyes, Father Martin. Today I am writing about his follow-up piece, Talk to Your Father, which is apparently meant to be the first in a series. I doubt I will remark on the others. Going over this one is a dismaying exercise. But there are people who will either take Esolen’s word as gospel or at the least be influenced by it, and I’ve dealt with the aftermath of his kind of advice.

Now, to his credit, I believe Dr Esolen’s advice is given out of a sincere desire to offer hope and comfort to any sexually confused young men who may happen across it. His words have the ring of kindness; that is not the problem. The problem is that they’re bad advice.

Let me now reassure any boy or young man who may read these words. Talk to your father. Do not talk to a gay man or to your school counselor. If the counselor is a woman, she will know as much about your feelings as I know about being pregnant. If the counselor is a man, he likely has stock in the whole sexual breakdown of our time. Do not talk to your friends, whom you cannot trust to keep your words to themselves. They are, after all, young, as you are, and prone to give way to the impulse of the moment. Talk to your father. … Be assured. You are the same. You are one of us. And your sexual feelings? Your arousal? Meaningless, and transitory, unless you put them into action. Don’t do that. Think: ‘This feeling is stupid.’ Do not take it too seriously. … If you have done something dumb, something you are ashamed of, by all means go to your father. You may be astounded by the old man’s wisdom. He will have seen a lot more than you will believe. Go to him. Do not go to the school counselor; do not go to any adult who has a vested interest in your failing. Talk to your father.

Urging an adolescent who’s having same-sex thoughts and feelings to talk to his father about them is not necessarily bad advice; reassuring him that he truly is part of the brotherhood of males, regardless of his feelings, is excellent.1 What isn’t, is the presumption that only fathers, and all fathers, will have anything worthwhile to contribute here.

Take the alternatives Dr Esolen categorically rejects. Whether a gay man would be worth talking to about sexual uncertainty depends entirely on the character and intelligence of the gay man in question, not on whether he happens to be gay.2 If he is hostile to Catholicism or Christianity, or considers chastity intrinsically unhealthy, or is eager to ‘claim’ people as exemplars of queerness, or doesn’t understand people very well—then yes, talking to him about same-sex feelings and thoughts is probably going to be a fruitless, and possibly be a demoralizing, exercise. Indeed, this holds true of any person and any subject. But if the gay man in question happens to be a devout, orthodox, chaste, and perceptive person, as sometimes happens, then he may be an ideal source of insight for these experiences. Dr Esolen himself might be astounded by the queer man’s wisdom.

The same criteria apply to school counselors: some are bad, some good, others yet indifferent. Lumping them all into a single category is not so much unfair (though it is certainly that) as unhelpful. I would also venture to point out that, while I personally have always preferred to talk with other men about sexual matters, my experience isn’t universal; and, as Simcha Fisher points out in her own response, we may surely suppose that a female school counselor might be able to grasp attraction to men at least as well as a male confessor could grasp the spiritual and personal state of a female penitent.

I would tend to agree with Esolen’s counsel against asking friends’ advice—teenagers are not, as a rule, fountains of wisdom, sexual or otherwise—but with two important, and related, caveats. One is that this must be treated as a rule of thumb. Depending on circumstances, a given teen may have peers who really are trustworthy, or (God have mercy) are at any rate less untrustworthy than anybody else available. And the other is that, while teenagers are rarely good sources of advice, everyone needs friends to confide in, not for direction but simply for company. And while they don’t have to be, friends are usually peers. The fact that they should be chosen carefully doesn’t mean they can go unchosen with no ill effects.

There are a few unintentionally hilarious moments in Dr Esolen’s piece, as when—continuing to push the ex-gay explanation of homosexual attractions, stating that all such feelings are really just about the need for male affirmation—he writes the following:

But your feelings are powerful. Well, flimsy bonds do not move mountains. Of course they are powerful. The football player you admire, he has those feelings too. But in his case, the feelings are satisfied by a powerful and normal and healthy object. He has his football squad, and that both affirms him as a man and clears up his confusions.

Which is why nobody has ever heard of an insecure high school football player, and why Wade Davis, Kwame Harris, David Kopay, Ryan O’Callaghan, and Roy Simmons never amounted to anything. But he goes further.

And your sexual feelings? Your arousal? Meaningless, and transitory, unless you put the feelings into action. Don’t do that. Think: ‘This feeling is stupid.’ Do not take it too seriously. … Your sexual feelings during the teenage years are on overdrive. A picture of Michelangelo’s David will set you off. Big deal. … Your real need is for masculine affirmation, so often expressed in a broadly physical way—think of a big bunch of coal miners showering after a day under the earth.

Which does afford us convincing if indirect proof that Dr Esolen has, to his credit, never watched porn.

Under the circumstances, the less said about Michelangelo the better ...

The fact that Don’t do it is the most obvious, and therefore the most useless, advice to give someone struggling with a desire they’re conflicted about, apparently goes for nothing. The fact that for some people, homosexual thoughts and feelings never go away regardless of whether they’re acted upon, is either unknown to or ignored by this essay. The facts that the whole psychogenic theory of homosexuality has a legion of problems,3 that there is some evidence that biology plays at least some role in sexual orientation, and that attempts to deliberately change orientation have failed so dramatically that many of the organizations and individuals who had the most stock in it have publicly renounced it, are not so much as hinted at.

None of this is a counsel of despair on my part. It is a counsel not to decide too hastily what your orientation is (since after all, people do pass through phases, especially in their teens); and also a counsel that, if it turns out that your same-sex feelings stick and opposite-sex ones fade or never take shape, that’s fine. Difficult, if you want to live according to the Church’s teaching, not that there’s any easy version of living according to the Church’s teaching; and, yes, the decision between living in transgression of the Church’s teaching on sexuality, attempting life as a celibate in a disconnected society, and embarking on the dangerous and surprising experiment of Christian marriage without one of the normal ingredients of such a marriage, is an unenviable trilemma. I haven’t solved it myself.

But being gay is not a moral or personal failure. It’s just there. What to do with it is something we have to discern over time, and that process of discernment will be by turns scary, exciting, dismal, humdrum, infuriating, lovely, and weird; but, in my opinion, it will rarely if ever be solved by simply dismissing the problem.

But the most terrible flaw in this essay is the one that Esolen betrays no inkling of: sometimes, tragically, it is a really awful idea to talk to your father. Because your father might be irrationally afraid of or hateful toward gay people, and being his flesh and blood might be no protection. This is why I so often harp on the need to preach against the sin of homophobia just as much as we preach on Catholic sexual mores: because this sin has victims, and they are not infrequently the victims of Christian parents. This is horrible enough in itself; but it also calls to mind the frightening text, The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you. A Church so wary of scandal can afford to have a little more wariness about this scandal.

Here is what happened to nineteen-year-old Daniel Ashley Pierce when he spoke honestly with his father, mother, and grandmother in 2014. (For those who can’t play the video at that link or don’t want to, I’ve included a partial transcript of about the first four minutes—partial, because I can’t face transcribing the fifth.)

Grandmother: Daniel, I want to tell you before I say anything else, that I love you. Now I know that you’re not gonna believe that, but it is true.
Daniel: Oh, I believe it.
Grandmother: So … and I have known that you were gay since you were a tiny little boy.
Daniel: Mhmm. Then, you would know at this point it’s not a choice.
Grandmother: And you have made a choice—
Daniel: I have not made a choice.
Grandmother: —evidently, from what you’ve told your daddy.
Daniel: I have not made a choice. I have not made a choice. I have been—from the moment I come out of my mother’s uterus, I have been that way. Probably long before I come out of her.
Grandmother: No.
Daniel: Yes. Mhmm.
Grandmother: No, you can deny it all you want to, but I believe in the word of God, and God creates nobody that way. It’s a path that you have chosen to choose.
Daniel: Mhmm.
Grandmother: Alright, you believe it the way you wanna believe it, ‘cause I cannot change that.
Daniel: This is the way I’ll put that part. I have taken basic biology, and psychology—
Grandmother: Uh huh.
Daniel: —and it’s determined, within the first six weeks of birth, what your personality’s gonna be, and that’s part of your personality, and you cannot change it, and it’s a scientific proof. Not—not based off of the Bible.
Grandmother [overlapping]: Well—well—you go with all the scientific stuff you want to, I’m going by the word of God.
Daniel: Well, scientific proof trumps the word of God.
Grandmother: No, it doesn’t in my opinion.
Daniel: Well, in my opinion it does, ‘cause there’s scientific proof. That’s why it’s called a scientific proof.
Grandmother [overlapping]: Well—you—okay, I’m not gonna argue that point with you. But I’m gonna tell you: since you have chosen that path, we will not support you any longer. You will need to move out, and find wherever you can to live, and do what you want to, because I will not let people believe that I condone what you do.
Daniel: Okay. Well, I’ll—I will be out by Thursday night at midnight. How about that?
Grandmother: Alright.
Daniel: I’ll be completely out and you’ll never, ever have to see me again.
Grandmother: If that’s the way you choose it, that’s fine.
Daniel: No, that’s not what I’m choosing, I’m doing what you’re telling me to do, and you’re disowning me. So that proves how much of a person you are. In fact, can I live in your basement, since it’s your house, and you’re my mother? [Pause] Really. So all of that support that you told me about …
Mother: Oh, I support you. I don’t support what you do—
Grandmother [overlapping]: And we don’t support your habit. No.
Mother: And I have a lot of friends that are gay. But they’re friends.
Daniel: See?
Mother: They’re not related to me.
Daniel: That’s not what you told me that day on the couch. That doesn’t seem very motherly to me.
Mother: And to summon your dad, and telling him that he’s a racist, and that your dad didn’t raise you—your dad’s gone to bat for you for the last twenty years of your life. That man’s put a roof over your head, he’s put food on your table—
Daniel [overlapping]: That’s diff—that’s not raising me.
Mother [overlapping]: He’s clothed you. Him.
Grandmother: Well, wait a minute, what—
Daniel: None of these people have raised me!
Mother [shouting]: You’re full of shit! And you told me on the phone that you made that choice! You know you wasn’t born that way, you know damn good and well you made that choice! You know, that this man has done everything he can to raise you, and you told me right on that damn phone that that was a choice you made, he didn’t need to blame himself! So don’t fill these people full of bullshit, Daniel!
Daniel [shouting]: You’re twisting my words!
Mother [shouting]: You twist everybody’s words!
Daniel [overlapping, shouting]: You are a completely different person!
Mother [shouting; camera swings erratically]: Let me tell you something, you little piece of shit!
Daniel [mixed with sounds of fighting]: No! No! No, you’re not gonna fucking hit me! [Indistinct cries and words]
Father: You son of a bitch!
Daniel: Get off me! Bitch! Get off me!
Father: Let me tell you something!
Daniel: No! [screaming]

You may be astonished by the old man’s wisdom.

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1One thing that fascinates me about male psychology is how important being masculine is to us, when I’ve never had the impression that being feminine was nearly as important or universal a concern to women (though obviously this could be my own myopic understanding of women at work). I have a half-baked theory that part of the reason St Paul directs wives to respect their husbands and husbands to love their wives, is that respect is a sort of currency among men, in a way that affection is a sort of currency among women; and that the apostle was thus directing each spouse to be careful to give the other the kind of love that that other would intuitively appreciate. All this is generalized and conjectural, but I tend to feel there’s something in it
2It should be unnecessary, but isn’t, to repeat here that the word gay as used by most people (LGBT people included) just means ‘erotically interested in the same sex.’ In the vernacular, it indicates nothing about a person’s beliefs, ethics, behavior, or socialization. Insistence that it does mean such things amounts to telling other people what they mean when they speak, which is insulting, ineffective, and rather silly.
3I’ve written on the subject before; here, I’ll content myself with an incomplete précis of its difficulties.
(1) If gayness is caused by an unmet need for male affirmation, what causes this unmet need to be interpreted sexually by the psyche? I have heard it asserted that this happens, many times. I have heard it explained zero times.
(2) Ought we to apply this consistently, and assume that heterosexuality is caused by an unmet need for female affirmation? Will a child who is adequately and appropriately loved by both parents become asexual? And in both cases, if not, why not?
(3) Given that many gay men have good relationships with their fathers, their peers, or both, and that many straight men have bad ones, what made the first group gay and kept the second straight? Or, looking to further development, is it reasonable to suppose that a gay man who comes to enjoy a better relationship with his father and/or other men will experience a correlated decrease in his attractions? I know from my own experience as well as others’ that this correlation is far from universal, if it exists at all.

(4) Where do lesbians fit into this? I’ve come across ex-gay sources that attribute homosexual attractions among women to: excessive identification with the father, masculinizing the psyche; a distant and/or abusive father, producing fear and distrust of men; a failure to bond with the mother, creating an unmet need, as with gay men; or a mother who was abused, leading to a desire to dissociate the self from femininity. That so many causes should have the same effect, and yet not necessarily have the same effect since there are also heterosexual women who meet these criteria, makes one wonder whether the causes and effects have been properly related to each other by the hypothesis.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A Fisking of Dr Anthony Esolen's 'Open Your Eyes, Father Martin'

There had to be a new self to go on the new way. This was the difficulty of the Church then as it is now, as it always is after any kind of conversion. There are always three degrees of consciousness, all infinitely divisible: (i) the old self on the old way; (ii) the old self on the new way; (iii) the new self on the new way. The second group is the largest, at all times and in all places. This self often applies itself unselfishly. It transfers its activities from itself as its center to its belief as its center. It uses its angers on behalf of its religion or its morals, and its greed, and its fear, and its pride. It operates on behalf of its notion of God as it originally operated on behalf of itself. It aims honestly at better behavior, but it does not usually aim at change; and perhaps it was in relation to that passionate and false devotion that Messias asked, ‘Think ye when the Son of Man cometh he shall find faith upon the earth?’

—Charles Williams, He Came Down From Heaven

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Trigger warning: this post deals indirectly with at least one story of sexual abuse.

In response to … actually I am not at all clear what, though I think it has something to do with homosexuality, Dr Anthony Esolen has written a couple of pieces for Crisis magazine. The quotations I read from other authors, notably the delightful Mary Pezzulo of Steel Magnificat, were such a weird blend of the debatable, the vile, and the baffling that I was exceedingly reluctant to read them or link to them; but I have done so, partly out of morbid curiosity and partly for the sake of knowing what I’m talking about before talking about it. (The articles in question are Open Your Eyes, Father Martin and Talk to Your Father.) I’d like1 to go through these damaging pieces and analyze them, beginning with the first.

Father James G. Martin, S.J., is either a cruel or a foolish man. It does not seem to be the first. But if it is not that, it must be the second, because that alone can explain how a Catholic priest can live in the midst of massive and unprecedented family breakdown, and the chaos, loneliness, and alienation consequent upon it, and still wave the banner for the latest innovation in sexual confusion.

A bold opening. Its boldness is, as the piece goes on, the less satisfying, in that Dr Esolen doesn’t go on at any point to specify what the latest innovation in sexual confusion is, or what Fr Martin’s putative banner-waving consists in. The closest he comes—and the only point in the article at which he alludes to anything that Fr Martin has said or done—is in the nineteenth of twenty-two paragraphs, and even this has no direct quotation or cited reference. I gather, from the array of (unsourced, but all wholly plausible) stories that follow, that Dr Esolen’s complaint is that Fr Martin does not adequately oppose the Sexual Revolution and advocate heterosexuality.

I won’t go through the stories one by one; like Mrs Pezzulo, I don’t see what any of them have to do with Fr Martin. I will certainly go on record as agreeing with Dr Esolen that the price tag of the Sexual Revolution is written in blood, most especially the blood of those children who were aborted or abandoned in the name of personal freedom.2 However, there is one story that I must respond to.

I know of a parish whose priest was a homosexual abuser. … He had portrayed himself as a manly fellow, interested in coaching the teenage boys at wrestling and boxing. One day a friend of mine, a teenage boy, called on the rectory and the priest answered, his arms slicked with oil up to the elbows. My friend recalled that detail years later, saying that at the time he had no idea what it might mean. It was clear that those boys were not coerced, but enticed, seduced. After all, they outnumbered the priest, and they were big. The abuser had won their consent.

No, Dr Esolen. Consent is not won. It is given, or else it is not given. What you are describing is rape. Raping someone through manipulating them and raping them through violence are both forms of rape; what differs is the means, not the crime. The inordinate difficulty a teenage boy would have, regardless of his stature or even his company, in saying No to someone that he has been taught to hold in the highest regard as a Catholic, someone that he very probably viewed as a mentor and a friend, is immense—especially in the midst of the hormonal madness of puberty. In any case, I’m at a loss as to what any of this has to do with Fr Martin.

What follows is a paragraph that, frankly, I can’t even parse enough to know whether I would agree with it.

Catholic rainbows have no desire to enter into the mind and heart of a young man who has been so enticed. What so gnaws upon him later, if not the warping of his natural manhood, is being led to engage in a deed against which the gorge rises. Yet they would leave young men by the millions beset by such offers, such enticement, ever more frequent, persistent, and shameless, and all that separates the lonely or fatherless boy who manages to grow straight and tall, and one who is led into the depravity of manhood abused, is the chance presence of someone on the lookout at a solitary place or a dangerous time.

Who or what on earth are Catholic rainbows? Does it mean LGBT-identifying Catholics? Those who sympathize with them? Is he alluding to the Judæo-Christian symbolism of the rainbow as a sign of mercy, and lamenting its absence from the souls of abuse victims? Or, if he means one or both of the first two possibilities, does he mean that those people evince no empathy for abuse victims (which, speaking as one such victim, I can assure Dr Esolen is quite false)? And who is the they of the third sentence? I think he means that Catholics who sympathize with LGBT people are ipso facto indifferent to the agony of those who were molested as children, which is not only slanderous, but ludicrous and hysterical; but I’m sincerely unclear about the correct interpretation here.

I pass to a clearer and more telling portion of the essay—and one with which, I’m glad to say, I have a real if limited sympathy.

Consider the intense loneliness of young men and women who are invisible to the sexual innovators, because they do not parade down Fifth Avenue in orange sequins and jockstraps. They are trying to follow the commandments and the natural law. They get no confirmation, no praise, no accompaniment; at best a sniff of condescension. Some will give up on faith and morality, feeling that they have been played for chumps, because the leaders of their former Church evidently do not really believe that sodomy, let alone natural fornication, is wrong. … Father Martin will ‘accompany’ them if they fall into a certain form of perversion, accompaniment that costs nothing, a pat on the back after the harm has been done. Who walks with them when the danger first threatens?

Not Crisis magazine. But let that be; they have Daniel Mattson to represent everyone who prefers not to identify with Side B,3 so they don’t have to know or even know about any others. In any case, I actually do have some small understanding of this trial. When I deal with fellow Christians (Catholic or Protestant) who reject the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, there is often a faint note of discouragement in my mind, for a number of reasons, one of them being the division of Christendom that that rejection both manifests and entails.

But in my experience, the thing that has driven me and most of the LGBT folks I know away from Christianity, whether we left it or not, has been exactly those habits that Crisis and the Catholics who resemble it so readily display: idolizing social and sexual normality (as if those were virtues), criticizing and punishing any hint of being open about what we struggle with, fulminating in lurid terms against others’ sexual depravity, and leaping to condemn anyone who shows sensitivity and compassion to LGBT people. It isn’t the lack of a moral stand that’s made me feel alone in the Catholic Church, Dr Esolen; it’s fellow believers who can’t stand to listen to me explain my experiences, and can’t say in so many words that they care whether people like me live or die. One of the things that sets Fr Martin apart, I am sorry to say, is that he does both.4

Possibly the most bewildering passage in a fairly bewildering piece is this:

The western world is dying, literally dying. No one is getting married. Hedonism has led to its own demise; Eros has slain himself on his own altar. Do you wonder, Father Martin, why you do not see boys and girls holding hands?

Um, what? Maybe circumstances really are that different where Dr Esolen lives, but both marriage and hand-holding remain normal in my part of the country; and I’m sufficiently well-traveled to advance the theory that my experience is, in this one respect, more normal than his.

They dare not do so; it will be a sign that they are in bed with one another, and embarrassment, if not moral qualms, will keep them from making that sign in public. I could go farther. They do not hold hands, because they do not do much at all with each other any more …

I mean … huh? Is there seriously a place in this or any country where these statements are true? I’m seriously asking. Put it in the comments.

What applies to boys and girls applies in a different way to boys and boys. Many young men are lonely and long for masculine affection, expressed in a healthy way, but they cannot find it, because the visibility of the homosexual life has rendered those longings suspect. … No sympathy for you.

Or: the determination of several generations in the west to inculcate disgust with homosexuality, as a means of preventing its development or exercise, has been so successful that any physical gesture of same-sex affection has been tarred with the brush of revulsion. Even from a strictly Catholic perspective, we might ask ourselves whether it was wise thus to erect a fence around the law. And once again, I can hardly speak for Dr Esolen’s circumstances, but in the social circles I travel in, acceptance of homosexuality has resulted in more openness to non-erotic male affection, not less, including touch—because there’s no longer such an urgent need to dissociate oneself from gayness. And then there is the abundance of non-erotic touch between gay men that I’ve observed, since, being gay and all, we have nothing to prove anyway.

Or for the father whose teenage son announced, on Thanksgiving, that he was ‘gay,’ causing Father Martin to give glory to God for the boy’s honesty. Such callousness takes the breath away. He does not consider that any decent and responsible father would be devastated by the news. It would be the darkest day of his life. He would know that he and his son had failed, and that his son had already acted upon his confusion—

Okay, wow, hold it. The boy’s father would know nothing of the kind. Polemics aside, what most people mean by the word ‘gay’ is simply and solely ‘attracted to the same sex rather than the opposite.’ I promise.5 The father may quite easily and wrongfully assume, but in no way knows, that his son has had any sexual contact with anyone, of either sex. As for the idea that a good father ought to believe that he and his son have both failed, because he raised a son that was man enough to admit a frightening truth to his father, I can’t make head or tail of a worldview that seriously involves that proposition.

And as for that being the darkest day of his life, what importance are you giving to raising a son who enjoys the good fortune of being heterosexual, Dr Esolen? Attraction per se is not under our control—note the passive construction ‘I am attracted to so-and-so’—and heterosexuality is not among the commandments. Chastity is; and courage; and telling the truth; and love of God and neighbor.

At the end of this first essay comes the root from which, I believe, the rest has sprung.

The single pragmatic question that should guide our course of action is simply this. What customs, and the laws that promote and protect them, give boys and girls the best chance to grow up with a married mother and father committed to one another for life, and to learn the feelings and ways that are natural and normal for their sex, so that they will be attracted and attractive each to the other, and determined to have lifelong marriages of their own in turn? Answer that question first, and then we can figure out what to do for those who fall afoul of nature or the moral law or both. That would be mercy indeed, and not indifference (or complicity) with a grin.

And that is exactly and absolutely and irrevocably the wrong place from which to start. Not because there is something wrong with caring about the family. But because neither family nor law nor custom nor anything else mentioned in this paragraph is God.

That omission shows in every line of Dr Esolen’s writing. The pulse of fear and anxiety and blame is palpable throughout. That isn’t the spirit of the gospel, nor the counsel of our Lord Jesus:

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I saw unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow; for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.6

To make anything other than God one’s first principle is, precisely, idolatry; and good things are not exempt from being idols. We can worship anything that isn’t God. And the better the good thing we idolize, the more plausible the idolatry, the subtler the deceit, and the more disastrous the effects. Caiaphas idolized the Torah; and killed the God who gave it.

The single pragmatic question that must guide all our actions is, rather, this: How can I best love Christ in the person of my neighbor? And that could certainly mean working to strengthen and encourage families in general. Or it could mean reaching out to LGBT people who have been threatened, hurt, or abandoned by Christians. Or any number of other things. But it is only in the light of Christ as the sun and center of our universe that we can deal intelligently with LGBT people or families or laws or anything else.

✠     ✠     ✠

1For lack of a better term.
2Not necessarily the personal freedom of the mother, I would add. The ease with which fathers can desert their children, especially unborn children, may well put their mothers in what seems to be an impossible position.
3This is by no means a criticism of Mattson himself. I have my disagreements with him, but they aren’t pertinent to this piece.
4Not that I consider him above criticism; but again, those criticisms aren’t germane to the subject.
5The only, and I do mean only, group of people that I’ve found to persistently understand the word gay to mean ‘sexually active with the same sex’ are the authors at Crisis. I have occasionally found this tendency in other sources, all of them conservative Christians unacquainted with LGBT culture and its general outlook on orientation.
6Matthew 6.28-30, 33-34.