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.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Out of the Whirlwind

I did warn you that I wouldn't whitewash things.

Not so long ago I posted an essay, drawing on some time praying and journaling, in which I talked about reconciling myself more deeply to celibacy. Like most of my posts about growth in virtue, it was ambitious, hasty, and overrated my ... well, most things.

It's been a year and a half since I had any serious belief that celibacy was a viable option for me. I believe as firmly as I ever have that celibacy is right; but that is a rather different matter. Perfection is always right, and always unattainable; save by the strange graces granted to those who, in some fashion, seem to compel the generosity of God in a way that I do not understand.

People will say that such graces are available to anybody who wants them. I shall say boldly that in my experience, that simply isn't true. To be blunt, I think it is wishful thinking, not sound theology. I challenge anyone to do as much as I did to bolster my chastity -- Mass, daily prayer, Confession, the Rosary, scapulars, icons, the Angelic Warfare Confraternity -- and lose as much ground, and as persistently, as I did at the same time I was doing these things. I was told that chastity would become easier as I formed good habits, and that prayer and the sacraments would foster these habits and transform my life. I was told I'd get stronger. I got weaker instead -- more and more exhausted, more and more unable to cope with the pressures of sex and loneliness and misunderstanding. And, because of that, increasingly confused and in pain that God was not helping me like I was told He would.

This is the part where I'm supposed to say something about an epiphany in the confessional, or discovering the saint whose intercessions finally changed everything, or the indispensable support of my friends, or joining Courage, or a light about God's mercy not depending on my efforts breaking on me. And after that everything was (apparently) easy. I have nothing of that kind to offer.

I try not to resent those who do have such things to offer; I am glad that their pains have been relieved. And, while I dare say some of them are being dishonest, I don't automatically assume that about anybody -- it is a very terrible thing to accuse someone of lying, especially about a matter of such grave importance as their relationship with God, and I don't do that lightly. But I would be lying if I set forth a pious conventionality instead of the naked truth, and the naked truth is that, in the thirteen years since I realized I'm gay, it has gotten gradually harder the whole time, no matter what I have done, and no matter what I have asked for from the Lord. And I do think that, whether it is intended or not, the message that those sorts of conventional Aesops send -- that if you just do this one thing, regardless of what this one thing is, you'll experience victory -- is a false and pernicious message.

Nevertheless I don't doubt His goodness. Nor do I seriously doubt the Church's teaching about homosexuality. Is it so very shocking that an infinite being should choose to do something I don't understand? He's done it before. When the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, it was with terrible irony and not with answers. Why, I don't know; but Job was strangely satisfied, and I don't find that answers are what I need to be satisfied as Job was. Not right now, anyway.

St. Teresa of Avila is one of my favorite saints, and one of my favorite quotes from her is also one of the quotes I hate the most in the whole world. She said -- I don't know when -- that You must learn to bear for God's sake the trial of being displeasing to yourself. I've been wrestling with that sentence for the last two years, with ferocity and anguish; it has dislocated my hip with a touch. I can't understand it, or am only just beginning to. I can never make up my mind whether it's pride or just a lack of wisdom that makes this saying so dark to me. Maybe it's both.

And where does that leave me, exactly? If what I'm really being taught through this agony of failure after failure is patience -- with God's timing, and with myself, since I suppose I haven't much call to be impatient with me if God isn't -- then, with respect to chastity, what should I be attempting? A celibacy I know already, from a decade of bitter experience, I cannot do? If I'm going out and sleeping with men regularly anyway, is it really better not to get into a relationship, that would at least have the merit of being a humanized experience of sexuality? Why is that a compromise, but years of fruitless attempts are somehow heroic, despite the damage it does to other people -- that damage being exactly what a relationship would avoid? Is it even psychologically possible to try to do the impossible? I don't try to fly by flapping my arms, nor could I, because I know I can't (no seriously, trust me, nobody wanted to fly more badly than I did when I was little).

I have no answers. Therefore I offer none.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Mudblood Catholic, Mark II

We are, I know not how, double in ourselves, so that what we believe we disbelieve, and cannot rid ourselves of what we condemn. -- Montaigne

So I've been blogging for about four months on Mudblood Catholic now. I've enjoyed it, and I feel I've been discussing important questions. But my technique and tone have been something like this:

I have heard of people who don't like Handel's Messiah. They are wrong. So wrong.

Whereas -- not to be a drama queen, but my life (not only this year but for the last year or two) has been, well, more along these lines:

If you haven't seen the BBC's Brideshead Revisited, you are also wrong. So very, very wrong.

And that doesn't feel honest to me. It doesn't feel honest to write only one half of the contradiction I find myself living.

Nor is contradiction too strong a word. I literally cannot make sense out of the two halves of my life -- gay and Catholic -- and I cannot let go of either one of them. In fact it sort of feels wrong even to try to let go of either one of them; as if to do so would be to decline the problem of life that God has set before me, for whatever reason.

I've been trying, once again, to read Fear and Trembling, in which Kierkegaard lays out his idea of the Knight of Faith. This knight, whose desire for ideal joy cannot be fulfilled, resigns himself to that fact, accepts that he cannot have ideal joy -- and then, without abandoning that resignation, nevertheless believes that he will get it, because with God all things are possible. I had always thought that, in their insistence on contradictions, the Existentialists were talking nonsense. I am less sure of that now. My experiences of the last year, living in a state of interior contradiction -- continually expecting either that my faith will transfigure my sexuality, or that my sexuality will cast out my faith; and yet neither one happens -- I've been reminded of Charles Williams' words about Kierkegaard in his 1939 book The Descent of the Dove:

'He was the type of the new state of things in which Christendom had to exist, and of the new mind with which Christendom knew them. He lived under a sense of judgment, of contrition, of asceticism; but also (and equally) of revolt, of refusal, of unbelief. Almost always before his days one of these two things had triumphed over the other; or if not, if there had been others like him, then their words had been so lightly read that it was supposed that one had triumphed. No doubt, as soon as Kierkegaard becomes fashionable, which is already beginning to happen, that fate will fall upon him. He will be explained; the other half of him (whichever that may be) will be excused. ... Most Christian answers to agnosticism seem not to begin to understand the agnosticism; they seem to invoke the compassion of God. In Kierkegaard one feels that God does not understand that kind of compassion.'

Most of my Catholic friends, I imagine, would tell me -- some of them have told me -- simply not to identify as gay. You're not gay, that isn't your identity; your identity is a man and a child of God, and you happen to be same-sex attracted, that's all. I'm tempted to answer, You can put a bow on a pig and call it Alice, but it's still going to get mud in the house if you let it in. I call myself gay because my feelings and experiences are, in point of fact, different from those of heterosexuals -- who, I note, are never similarly challenged for the equally identifying language, 'I'm straight.' Using a different phrase will change neither my experiences nor my feelings.

I understand the message they actually want to send, but frankly, I find it pointless at best and mendacious at worst. Regarding my sexuality as some kind of extraneous part of me, as though it doesn't really have anything to do with who I am as a person -- that is not a life-giving thing to tell someone, and it does nothing to change the experience of being gay; except maybe to add the burden that what is, often, an agony of loneliness and repeated failures is unimportant to other people and should be unimportant to me too.

Most of my queer and allied friends, on the other hand, would tell me to drop the Catholic side of the contradiction -- or, at least, to reject the Church's teaching on the subject. Lots of Catholics do. But I can't do that. I converted to Catholicism because I believe it, and I cannot simply decide what I do and don't believe; there is an element of decision in belief, yes, but looking at the facts as honestly as I can has to come first. And those facts led me to the Catholic Church -- a journey I'll discuss in later posts. For now, I'll have to ask you just to accept that Catholicism is, as far as I can see, the only honest conclusion I can come to. And if I trust God to guide the Catholic Church, it doesn't make sense to add caveats on the grounds that I don't like a doctrine or find it hard to bear. The martyrs found martyrdom hard to bear, and I'll take a guess and say that at least several of the martyrs did not specially enjoy being martyred.

It is that lived contradiction that I want to communicate here, especially to my fellow Catholics. There is a notion abroad, especially among young, zealous believers, that if you just accept the Church's teaching about chastity you will find it life-giving, inevitably. It is the 'inevitably' that makes this belief naive, and naive beliefs are dangerous. It is this sort of faith that makes atheists and apostates -- nor, to be blunt, can I blame atheists and apostates, as many Catholics seem willing to. Oh, they just don't have faith. No, they don't. (Or not as far as we can see -- never forgetting that we are, in theory anyway, the ones who believe that Man looketh on the outward appearance, but God upon the heart.) But I am living the contradiction that makes the atheist scoff and the apostate rebel, and it's not contemptible, and it's not funny. By this I do not mean to pay any compliment to myself: I don't like it, I wouldn't do it if I knew how to either leave my faith behind or actually become a saint, instead of remaining in a sort of spiritual demimonde; it is by definition a falling short of the standards of both Catholic and queer orthodoxy. But, while I believe Catholicism, I sympathize with agnosticism and philosophical revolt, and I do not understand the sort of compassion that fails to understand that.

I have been reflecting lately on a text from Job, near the end, when God has answered Job's imprecations against Him with terrifying riddles, and Job has accepted the Divine rebuke. God then says that His anger burns against Job's friends. The ones who were telling Job that he was in the wrong, that he had to repent and confess whatever sin he was, clearly, guilty of. And God's anger burned against their defense of Him. I don't know why; but I sometimes think that it had something to do with their refusal to acknowledge the reality of another human being's experience on the grounds that it didn't fit neatly into their theology. I often think that the tidy pieties of Christians may be met with the frightening rebuke, The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.

I have no doubt that some of my friends would, and possibly will, tell me that I should have continued blogging the way I was doing: that I was sharing great insights about theology, that discussing my imperfections and uncertainties will be a source of scandal, that my personal struggles are no one else's business, blah blah blah. Forgive me for being very tired of that sort of talk, to the point that it makes me a little angry. Personal struggles should not be out of place in church. That is one of the things that makes people leave the Church. And what good is theology itself, unleavened by life? 'I would rather feel contrition than be able to define it.' Man does not live by word alone; the Sacrament Itself consists not only of the flat, tasteless, colorless Body, but of the scarlet and intoxicating Blood. As for scandal, the one and only scandal in the Church that really disgusts me is the scandalous idea that it is appropriate to be dishonest -- which was made horrifyingly manifest in the scandal that made such juicy headlines. I think that, if people are drawn to the Catholic faith by anything I write, it will be because I was telling the whole truth. I will whitewash nothing, for if I do, it will only be my own sepulcher.

Your flavor in my mind goes back and forth between
Sweeter than any wine, as bitter as mustard greens

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Reread, Reflect, Reinvent

I was going over my series on gender theory, and trying to come up with a new post, on chivalry, and I was struck forcibly by something I didn't expect.

Not only was I not doing what I'd set out to do -- set out a simultaneously Catholic and queer gender theory -- I flat-out didn't sound like myself at all.

I mean, I sound like a sort of internet-self that I have; I use it a lot on GCN, actually. But it was all very clinical and distant, like I was holding the subject at arm's length. Some modesty on the subject is appropriate, since I'm no expert; but this, on rereading, felt more like inauthenticity than modesty -- like I was afraid of revealing my real thoughts or feelings.

And I think I've been doing this with most of my posts. I don't think it's at all coincidental that my most popular post to date has been one in which I opened up a little bit about my experience as a gay Christian, rather than one in which I laid out this or that piece of theology or political theory.

Considering that it's specifically the experience of being queer that I want fellow Christians, and especially fellow Catholics, to come to understand, I kind of think that sort of facade is a dumb move. You can't think your way through all this; or rather, you can and should use your head, but you should use it in conjunction with your heart. And considering that one of my major complaints about the way the Church responds to homosexuals (and other queers) is the hush-hush, which I don't feel is helpful or healthy -- well, maybe I ought to put my money where my mouth is and open up a bit.

So I'll be taking a break from Mudblood Catholic for a few days, to see if I can't revamp my approach. Pray for me.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Reblog: Jeremy Erickson

Tomorrow being the Day of Silence, I won't be posting ('cause that's so different from my normal haphazard schedule of when-I-think-of-something postings ...); however, I would like to plug this post from Jeremy Erickson, one of the authors on Spiritual Friendship, which (if memory serves) was founded in part by Ron Belgau, who also helped Justin Lee found the Gay Christian Network. It is a good and needful piece on Christian attitudes toward homophobic bullying.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Power of the Crucified

I am pausing my series on gender theory again. Recent events -- the Boston bombings, and others -- have provoked certain reflections which I'd like to explore. I apologize if this post is a little more haphazard than usual; it was written in the grip of passion.

I feel I have grown up in an increasingly violent world. I was born during the tail end of the Cold War; when I reached adolescence, acts of violence, seemingly suddenly, became a prominent feature on the news -- not just ordinary crimes, but frightening innovations: I was eleven when the Kosovo War hit the news, and when Matthew Shephard was brutally beaten and left to die; twelve when the Columbine Massacre happened, fourteen years ago this Saturday; fourteen when the World Trade Center was destroyed and the Pentagon attacked. And between political hawks who want to fight fire with fire, and doves who don't want to fight at all, America has become more polarized, more ideologically and rhetorically violent -- while at the same time, disenchantment with both of our major political parties has increased dramatically. (I neither have nor care about a solution to the problems of political parties. Theoretically, in a democracy, the parties serve the interests of the people; an amusing thesis, but never mind. If they are losing their bases, that is their own fault -- we do not owe them our loyalty, they owe us their loyalty, and if they betray their lords then their lords need not take care of them. I shall not.)

But I digress. I have written about nonviolence before (here and here particularly), but I don't think I have communicated the passionate conviction of nonviolence that acts of violence engender in me. I loathe any and every shedding of human blood even when there is absolutely no alternative. The horrifying insanities that have marred Massachusetts and Connecticut this year defy adequate response.

People are nonetheless calling for responses. Conservatives, for an increased liberty in the use of guns, so as to cast out the spirit of violence by fear of retaliation, while the left calls urgently for an increase in restrictive laws, perhaps not realizing that every appeal to law is indirectly an appeal to law enforcement, which is again, as the word suggests, an appeal in the last resort to force. Nor is there a lack of cries for revenge, indeed threats of revenge addressed to the unknown perpetrators.

Revenge, hatred, and violence solve nothing. Nothing. Why not? Because they beget themselves again! They rise, like a perverse phoenix, out of their own ashes! Every war is pregnant with the war that will be fought in retaliation, every act of malice repeats itself by laws of cause and effect! Violence breeds violence, it does not produce peace! At the very most, violence can suppress a disorder temporarily and buy the victor time; at its worst, its corrosive effects rot the souls of perpetrators and victims alike -- as Timothy McVeigh, a decorated veteran of the Gulf War, was twisted and sickened both by things he did and by things that were done to him. I am not defending any of his actions: they were monstrous. They are, also, a case in point of violence breeding violence.

And what is the solution to violence? Merely let ourselves be struck and struck down, our lives be mangled? I'll say it: Maybe.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. ... Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. ... Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. -- John 12.24-25, 27, 31-32

Violence is weak. It is the weapon of weak men, not strong ones. Oh, admittedly a man may be so cowardly that he is too weak even for violence; I don't yet know whether I am of that type, though I suspect it -- my drift into pacifism felt awfully convenient. But whether I personally am a knight in shining nonviolent armor or not, I am deeply convinced that there is no weapon stronger than Divine Love. Love subjected Himself to a violent death and returned from it. The Roman Empire, which executed Him at the apex of its kingdom, power, and glory, waned and fell into darkness while His Church had not yet finished gathering her strength. And that strength was not gathered by force; even when the state chose to assist the Church by force, it backed heretical movements like Arianism and Iconoclasm as often as not, and the imperial purple fell at the feet of the Crucified, over and over again. It was that Crucified who gained the allegiance of all Europe for a thousand years, and who now, with the eternal suspicion of the Church from the World reviving, is present among us in every tabernacle and in every baptized soul. He who chose to let Himself die remains alive and victorious -- I am he that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and I have the keys of hell and of death.*

Christian reader, the weapons of our warfare were not smithied for battles against flesh and blood. We do not owe our final allegiance to our nation but to our God. Every human being, of whatever nationality, race, religion, or ideology, is the dearly beloved of that God. Violence is weak because it does not solve the essential problem -- the problem of a world where men's hearts are cold enough that they are willing to wrong one another. The solution to that problem does not lie in taking sides, but in taking suffering -- St. Paul said it so well: Be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which is preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister; who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church.** If we desire peace, as God desires peace, the cost of that reconciliation is paid in suffering. That is what our Master did; and if we truly believe in the priesthood of all believers, then we ought each to be making ourselves sacrifices with Him.

Or were we thinking that it could be had without a price? Were we supposing that St. Peter really didn't mean it when he said that Christ was not our substitute only, but our example? Were we listening at all when Jesus warned us to count the cost, to pick up our own crosses and follow, to forsake our families and our property and our own lives also?

Violence is weak because it takes more strength to accept and endure suffering than it does to inflict it on other people -- whether out of cruelty or out of revenge for past injuries. Gandhi, who developed his ideas of nonviolence in the racial hatreds of South Africa and brought them into the Indian independence movement, saw clearly and said repeatedly that only love for one's enemies, the kind of love that converts them, can truly cause violence to dissipate. Kill an enemy, and the feud will continue, in this generation or the next; turn an enemy into a friend, and the feud is over already. People talk about fighting fire with fire, while ignoring how stupid that is in real life: you fight fire with water, because they are opposites. Fight fire with fire and you are simply doubling the problem. Love is the weapon of the strong, the weapon of those who are not afraid of suffering, the weapon of the Crucified. I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of hell and of death.

*Revelation 1.18.
**Colossians 1.23-24.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Spear and the Distaff, Part Four: Love and Respect

Here is where you can find Parts One, Two, and Three of The Spear and the Distaff. More to come.

But how is this essentially different from patriarchalism -- from the idea that women are not, or should not be, contributors to the grandeur of the human race, but should simply pipe down, take care of their men, and pump out babies? After all, that is basically what the old notion of hierarchy was.

Well, not exactly; but that would divert us into a historical study of gender relations, which, while fascinating and important in its own right, and relevant, is nonetheless a separate topic. Suffice it to say here that the progressivist view of history -- that all human rights were subject to tyranny and brutality in our dark beginnings, and have continually improved and are continuing to do so -- is a result and a cause of extreme ignorance of history. History shows neither continual improvement nor continual decline; it simply wobbles, as we might have expected from something human.

Yet we still have the issue of misogyny to deal with. I don't expect my treatment to be exhaustive -- I have never been a woman, so half the appropriate perspective on the topic is missing; and even if I had, I am only one person, in one generation of one culture. But here it is for what it is worth.

One thing I have repeatedly emphasized is that gender is about relationship. There is a particular kind of relationship appropriate to marriage, and in that case the genders of the parties do determine which role they have been cast in; but the entering into that relationship in the first place is something freely chosen (or at any rate it should be, and, to be a validly sacramental marriage, must be). The woman has as much right to free decision in this regard as the man. And this dynamic is something that governs their relating, not their every endeavor. Marie Curie's pursuit of chemistry was not unfeminine, or a flaunting of hierarchy, nor was her husband unmasculine or remiss by helping her. Nor was St. Catherine gender-bending or insolent in remonstrating with Gregory XI and convincing him to return the papacy to Rome from Avignon; pointing out the truth is not a specially masculine privilege.*

So what does all the talk about initiation and receiving mean, then, if it doesn't apply to life in general? I tend to think that St. Paul was hinting at it in one of his unpopular passages:

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it ... So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. ... This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband. -- Ephesians 5.22-25, 28-30, 32-33

The reasoning the apostle gives here is theological. Yet he knew his flocks well, as we can see in the particularity of each letter he wrote -- he was not laying down only general principles, but addressing specific needs of the churches he wrote to. Considering the placidity with which other authors (like Aristotle) wrote about the supposed superiority of men to women and of wives to husbands, St. Paul's instructions to wives look almost perfunctory in historical context, and the fact that he addresses the obligations of husbands (and spends rather more time on those) suggests an attentiveness to the realities of gender relations which we would rather hope for in a bishop.

But that's icing. Looking at the coinherence of gender as an example of the coinherence of reality in the first part of this series, we might consider whether the theological reasoning set forth by St. Paul might tell us something more about gender than simply who has what formal obligations in a marital context. I think that this says something about the psychology and the needs of women and men. I don't think it is too gross a generalization to say that respect is for men what affection is for women: a sort of social currency, the psychic need through which personal interactions are instinctively and even subconsciously measured. Take insults: as a rule, women tend regard them as, well, insulting; but men frequently use them as a sort of roughhousing gesture of fondness -- an implicit statement that the man being spoken to is tough enough to handle the insult. This is of course not universal, with respect to either gender; but I think it significant that the generalization can even be made. The point is that where one gender tends to speak the language of affection, the other tends to speak the language of respect -- which perhaps explains why each can and does take the other to be selfish and irrational.

Yet St. Paul inverts this. He urges wives to respect husbands, and husbands to be affectionate (indeed, more than affectionate) to wives. In other words, he is instructing each spouse to speak the other's emotional language, as it were. Perhaps that is part of why, in the verse immediately preceding this passage, he gives the general command, "Submit to one another in the fear of the Lord."

While the authority spoken of by the apostle is assigned specifically to marriage, the illumination provided into the common functioning of each gender is more broadly useful. Male and female, masculine and feminine, coinhere outside of the specifically sacramental context of marriage, and it never hurts to understand half the human race better. In other words, while the specifically hierarchical application may be limited, one of the functions of marriage may well be to teach us -- whether directly, in the person of our spouse, or through seeing other people's marriages -- how to relate to the half of the human race that we aren't.

And why, then, should initiation and receptivity be spoken of as characteristically masculine and feminine, if it is not always the man's job to initiate and the woman's job to receive, in every relationship? Well, I think full weight should be given to the word characteristically -- I tend to agree with Jung that there are feminine elements in a man and masculine elements in a woman; again, coinherence. But additionally, I have a hunch that there is an internal need for these things in men and in women. A man who cannot open himself up and make himself vulnerable will not be everything he could be, and a woman who is unable to initiate will not be everything she could be; yet such imperfections are common enough, and seem rather to limit a person's happiness and sense of self than to ruin them. But a man who cannot initiate, cannot take risks and responsibilities, is not likely to respect himself (an essential ingredient of masculine self-worth), and it could be argued that he doesn't have a right to. Conversely, a woman who (metaphorically) will receive nothing and no one -- the woman to whom the door held open is a chauvinistic implication that her arms are too weak, rather than a gesture of courtesy -- it is impossible, for me anyway, to imagine such a woman being happy.

*There have been believers who, on the basis of I Corinthians 14.33-35 and I Timothy 2.11-15, have thought precisely that women ought not to make theological contributions to the Church or to rebuke male members. I fully assent to the authority of these Scriptures, and don't think they mean that at all. Because the Greek words for husband and wife are the same as the words for man (as specifically male) and woman, my interpretation (in part) is that St. Paul is guarding against wives embarrassing their husbands in the congregation, which would be damaging to the individual husbands and to the Church's reputation. Whether that interpretation is adequate or not, the idea that women ought not be theologians is, for a Catholic, given the lie by the female Doctors of the Church if nothing else. One can imagine, say, the simultaneously self-deprecating and devastating reply that St. Teresa might have given to those who would try to defend Catholicism by attacking the authoritative declarations of the Church.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Spear and the Distaff, Part Three: The Monstrous Regiment

The difference between the genders, and the mention in my previous post of feminism, make some discussion of the idea of hierarchy inevitable. To that subject I now turn. (I have by no means exhausted even my own amateur thoughts on the subject, but it was getting a bit wall-of-text-y, so I shall continue the subject in my next.)

Catholicism is linked in the minds of most people to the notion of hierarchy. This is one of the major objections people bring against traditional Christianity. That priests should have the power to perform the sacraments while laymen do not, that the Magisterium should have the power to define doctrine while the individual believer does not, that a husband should be the head of his wife, that only males should be eligible for the priesthood -- all of this hierarchy, to most modern secularists and many modern Christians, is intolerable. It's backward, it's chauvinistic, it's undemocratic.

I do not think hierarchy is chauvinistic, though many Christians have in fact been chauvinists, and culpably used the notion of hierarchy as their apron of fig leaves. I do not find the word backward useful: if it means that our ancestors believed it, well, yes, but that does not decide the question of its truth or falsity -- it must be examined on its intellectual merits; and if it means something else then I don't know what. Hierarchy is most certainly undemocratic: given that my own political sympathies lie chiefly with anarchy and monarchy,* that does not deeply trouble me, but let us divert ourselves to that subject for a moment.

There are three reasons for being a democrat (in the sense of believing in rule by the people). One is the optimistic reason, along the lines of Rousseau, that people are so good that if you give them all a say, things will turn out for the best. This, judging from my own observations and knowledge of history, is one of the most extraordinarily silly ideas in any field. Another is the pessimistic reason, that "power corrupts" and no one should be trusted with permanent or unrestricted power over others. There is a great deal in this view. But it does nothing to explain why many monarchies and empires have been, often for long periods of time, stable, happy, and well-governed, whereas democracies, as James Madison pointed out in the Federalist Papers, have on the whole "been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths."

The third reason was put best by Chesterton. "The democratic contention is that government ... is not something analogous to playing the church organ, painting on vellum, discovering the North Pole ... and so on. For these things we do not wish a man to do at all unless he does them well. It is, on the contrary, a thing analogous to writing one's own love-letters or blowing one's own nose. These things we want a man to do for himself, even if he does them badly" (Orthodoxy, ch. IV). The idea here is that the goodness or badness of men is irrelevant: that our ideas must proceed from the nature of mankind and not from the character of its individual specimens. It is the idea that every rational creature has, as one of its intrinsic rights, a say in its society as a whole. Democratic rulership is, in this view, not a consequence of individual worth, but an office, held by every person.

Whether this is true about politics or not, the Catholic concept of hierarchy relies on this same distinction. For example, the sacrament of Holy Orders does not confer personal superiority upon the ordinand; it confers an office, a function, which he has neither the right nor the ability to assume for himself; and the power of this office comes through his actions, but it does not come from them.

Likewise, to the extent that there is any hierarchy between the sexes, I believe it can only be approached in this manner. Masculinity and femininity are offices; even if, in the specific context of marriage, the masculine spouse is given the job of headship, it does not follow that men are better than women, and no husband (or gender theorist) has any right to pretend such superiority. The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstruous Regiment of Women was a piece of sexist nonsense and bad commentary,** and other works of the same cast are of the same value. Indeed, if we are going to talk about superiority as opposed to function, since functions are often given to notably unworthy persons, the greatest (simply) human being was and is the Mother of God, a function that by definition could be held only by a woman. If anybody objects to hierarchy because of fears that hierarchy means that men are better or more important than women, then their objection is entirely sound, and a defense of hierarchy consists in showing that it does not involve that misogynistic view -- and, further, of showing that the chauvinistic interpretation of hierarchy is untrue.

But if the distinction between masculine and feminine has to do with office, rather than person, why have it at all? Why not have complete egalitarianism, of function as well as of being, in which women can hold masculine roles and men can hold feminine roles? Well, for one thing, that seems to me rather to spoil the fun of having different things to begin with: everyone could be "It" in a game of tag, but it'd get boring fast. But it also seems to neglect the full import of the archetypes, and of the relational coinherence they possess. The masculine and the feminine are not simply about humanity, as was suggested in the first post of this series. C. S. Lewis addresses something of this in the last installment of the Cosmic Trilogy:

"[S]he had been conceiving this world as 'spiritual' in the negative sense -- as some neutral, or democratic, vacuum where differences disappeared, where sex and sense were not transcended but simply taken away. Now the suspicion dawned on her that there might be differences and contrasts all the way up, richer, sharper, even fiercer, at every rung of the ascent. How if this ... were not, as she had supposed, merely a relic of animal life or patriarchal barbarism, but rather the lowest, first, and easiest form of some shocking contact with reality which would have to be repeated -- but in even larger and more disturbing modes -- on the highest levels of all?
"'Yes,' said the Director. 'There is no escape. If it were a virginal rejection of the male, He would allow it. Such souls can bypass the male and go on to meet something far more masculine, higher up, to which they must make a yet deeper surrender. But your trouble has been what the old poets called Daungier. We call it Pride. You are offended by the masculine itself: the loud, irruptive, possessive thing -- the gold lion, the bearded bull ... The male you could have escaped, for it exists only on the biological level. But the masculine none of us can escape. What is above and beyond all things is so masculine that we are all feminine in relation to it.'" -- That Hideous Strength, ch. 14, part 5

In other words. Insofar as the masculine office represents that which initiates, that which comes in from an outside, and insofar as the feminine office represents that which receives, that which opens itself to that outside, they are icons of God and humanity, and more particularly of Christ and the Church (as St. Paul makes explicit). The distinction and even, in a specifically marital context, authority that Catholic doctrine recognizes with respect to gender, is preserving a symbolic or ritual lesson about the relationship between God and man: He initiates and we respond; He enters us and we receive Him; He is the Bridegroom, and we -- female and male, as St. John of the Cross understood very well -- are the Bride. This is one of the reasons I have tried to stress the relativity of gender, the fact that it exists in the context of relationship rather than as an abstract absolute. Gender is not a ranking system; it is a mystery play. Our genders, and the sexes that go with them, are the roles we have been cast in by the Director of the play. I suspect (suspect, not assert) that this is why, in the Church and in the family, authority is associated by Scripture and tradition with the masculine. (To avoid red herrings, I shall say here that I see no reason why the state -- which is properly governed by reason and lacks the added data of revelation -- should follow the same pattern; so that excluding women from equal participation in the political process, democratic or otherwise, is not a necessary corollary of this doctrine of hierarchy and is not something I desire.)

This is part of why there can be a simultaneous distinction between masculine and feminine roles, and yet equality between their worth. It should be noted, too, that though the authority of husbands and of priests is thus connected to masculinity as the icon of the divine, the feminine is, in a sense, the higher and more human of the two. The highest activity of mankind is to open itself to God -- to be the feminine to His masculine, speaking metaphorically. It is therefore no coincidence that, as was previously alluded to, the highest created being should be a Woman.

*It sort of makes sense, I swear.
**Though it must be admitted that the title, with its delicious and archaic polysyllables, is fairly entertaining, particularly the now quite obsolete spelling Monstruous.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Reblog: Melinda Selmys

Melinda Selmys, whom I had the pleasure of meeting last summer, is one of my favorite authors for her outstanding book Sexual Authenticity. She was a practicing lesbian in her teens, became a Catholic around the age of 20, and has since married and is raising a sizable family -- but does not consider herself part of the ex-gay world. She recently reviewed a video by one Michael Voris; his staff, in reply, challenged her to cite only one of the errors she claimed the video contained. She produced forty. I am intending to return to my series on gender shortly, but I was rather tickled by this (which is perhaps not altogether charitable of me, I'm not sure), and aside from that it is an important issue -- not because of Voris in particular, but because of the segment of Christianity and specifically of Catholicism that he represents.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Spear and the Distaff, Part Two: The Mythical Archetypes

To read this shambling attempt at a queer Catholic gender theory from the beginning, go here.

So the simultaneous distinction and interdependence of gender -- a reality Charles Williams delighted in describing as coinherence, in this context and others -- this is itself rooted in the Trinity, which is the fundamental reality. Fine; everything real is going to be related to reality somehow or other, I dare say. And the biological expressions of sex contain suggestions of the nature of gender: the masculine being initiatory and protective, the feminine receptive and nurturing. But these seem like awfully restrictive concepts. Does this mean that a gentle man is less masculine than other men, or that an independent woman is made unfeminine by her independence?

I would answer with a firm and resounding no. I have no special liking for feminism (mostly, having had it blasted in my ears for a quarter of a century, I am merely bored by it), but here it is absolutely right. The point is worth some attention.

Radical feminists, who argue that traditionally masculine traits are simply strategies for socio-cultural success and dominance, have drawn the conclusion that emulating these traits is the best thing to do; thus leading to the (somewhat unfair) stereotype of the aggressive and arrogant feminist, of the sort that provoked the remark, "When a woman acts like a man, why can't she act like a nice man?" The mysterious contempt of motherhood evinced by many radical feminists suggests something deeply wrong with this approach. Cultural feminists, on the other hand, argue -- quite rightly -- that, while women have certainly been treated unjustly throughout history, servility was never a genuinely feminine attribute in the first place. Feminine gifts and talents have always had a distinct and rightful place in human society; if that place has not been appreciated, or if women have been muscled out of it by men, that is a specifiable injustice, not a sign that the nature of gender needs to be reinvented.

Turning to the atypical masculine -- that which exhibits traits often thought of as feminine, such as gentleness, tact, and romanticism -- this too has been denigrated. Contempt for men who exhibit these things, often taking the form of accusations of effeminacy, seems to be causally connected with disdain for women. Not all of these traits have been equally or always derided by all cultures or in all times: good manners, for example, were not in the least unmanly to a Victorian, and neither was a romantic sensibility. The supposedly advanced culture of the twentieth century actually showed a marked retrogression into childishness in its ideas of gender, inventing restrictions and taboos unknown to earlier ages (e.g, that physical affection between two men is a sign of homoeroticism). One of the promising things about queer theory -- though this has by no means established itself, given the extreme diversity and, at times, infighting of gay culture -- is its potential for dismantling false notions of the masculine: what I like to call machismania. Preoccupation with the aggressor impulse, which is a valid biological expression of maleness but must be subordinated to the lordship of an integrated psyche, is a very silly way of defining masculinity.

Okay, so stereotypes are not the same thing as archetypes. And where does that leave us?

To be honest, I don't entirely know. I feel that I understand gender better now than I did five years ago, but at the time I had no grasp of gender so that isn't saying much. However, I did come across a quote from (I think) Angelo Cardinal Scola once, in a little pamphlet from the Knights of Columbus,* that has been one of the few Christian resources to offer more than a superficial approach to gender: "Men receive love by giving love; women give love by receiving love."

This statement is like a mental lozenge -- it has to dissolve in the mind over time in order to take effect. But think of some examples, stereotypical in themselves, maybe, but useful as illustrations of the larger principle. If a man holds the door open for a woman, he is attempting to give love; if she goes through it and thanks him, he will receive love through that gift, but if she rejects his kindness he will feel, well, rejected. Conversely, one of the most characteristic things a wife or a mother will say to her husband or her son on their arrival home is "Tell me about your day." Here, her attempt to receive them is the manifestation of her love; if that gift-of-receiving is met by silence (or the sort of reply that amounts to silence), her love will be frustrated.

Cardinal Scola's statement is a summary of the genders' coinherence: it illustrates their interdependence just as much as their contrast in emphasis or psychological style. Both feminine and masculine are designed both to receive and to give. Similarly, Carl Jung, whose psychological theories sometimes bordered on the mystical, thought that each gender contained elements of the other, which had to be integrated into the psyche as a whole for proper balance, and that these outposts of our own opposites were a major factor in erotic affection (healthy or unhealthy).

Taking that maxim as a starting point, I believe we can begin to understand why the types represented in art, from ancient myth down to postmodern pop culture, are at once so tied to the cultural standards of gender and so apt to subvert them -- sometimes in socially destructive ways, but at other times in a manner that displays real insight into the artificial limitations of a culture's view of gender. Every "spear" character concept will have a "distaff" counterpart; sometimes the strength of the contrast between the two will emphasize how really different masculine and feminine are, while other times the similarity between the spear and the distaff types will show their inter-animation of one another.

This in turn, since one of the functions of art is to express our subconscious to us in a safe way, can deliver us from false or overly-narrowed concepts of gender. Our own culture seems replete with these confining stereotypes, though the trend is changing, largely (though not exclusively) as a result of the feminist and queer movements; the cultural confusion caused by these movements does of course do damage, but so did the repressions and restrictions of their artificially clear predecessors, particularly in the fifties. There is no social order which gets everything right -- except "that Rome where Christ Himself is Roman," i.e. Heaven itself.

I think that a general acquaintance with literature, preferably over a period of several hundred years at least, will give us a fairly good, comprehensive approach to the real archetypes of both genders, which is a good antidote to wrongly narrowed definitions. So, for instance, the aggressive character is often thought of as exclusively masculine; but it was a far more fastidious age than our own which produced the refrain "The female of the species is more deadly than the male," and the stories of the Amazons and the Valkyries suggest that the Warrior-Maiden archetype may be as old as humanity; nor is it without historical and wholly Christian expression in Saint Joan of Arc. Conversely, the traits of gentleness, peace, and sensitivity are frequently taken to be specifically feminine -- yet these received a pretty unambiguously masculine expression in the boyish boisterousness of Saint Francis.

This, I think, demonstrates one of the ways in which a simply conservative approach to society will not do for a Christian, and especially not for a Catholic. Every culture -- however baptized and catechized it may be -- has flaws, and it is among the special tasks of the Church to help a culture recognize those flaws and compensate for them, and to repent of them when they become sins. It is also one of the places where Christianity and the queer world can find common ground, albeit a limited one. Given how few those are, we should try and make as much of this as we can. If St. Paul could take advantage of an altar to an unknown god to proclaim the invisible Deity, I believe we can do the same; and if he was not embarrassed to quote pagan playwrights and poets, perhaps we need not be ashamed of Tony Kushner and Camille Paglia.

*No, Matt Curley, I am not becoming a Knight of Columbus. Shut up forever.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Spear and the Distaff, Part One: The Heavenly Archetypes

One issue that questions of sexuality tends to raise, sooner or later, is that of the nature of gender. What are masculine and feminine? Where do the true masculine and feminine archetypes end and mere social stereotypes of them begin? What distinguishes homosexuality from transgender -- or are they different forms of the same thing? Most importantly, with respect to every question: who cares?

Before sharing my reflections on the subject, I ought to note that I am not a professional psychologist. This may stand me in good stead in some ways -- at any rate to the extent that I am not captive to the fads that afflict that profession (for every profession, and especially academic ones, is afflicted by fads to some degree), though I am subject doubtless to others -- but it does mean that what thoughts I have are entirely amateur; they are based on my own life, conversations with friends, reading the works of those who discuss their own experiences, and doing my best to apply imagination and common sense to all my sources. Nor, though I am an amateur enthusiast, am I a trained theologian, or even a trained philosopher. I have confidence in my ideas, but they are in development. Any authority I have on this subject is the authority of a veteran, as it were, which may be valuable but should not be confused with the authority of a general.

Now. Physical sex is a reality -- this I take for granted. There are such things as male and female. Masculine and feminine are not simply the same as male and female; the sexes are specifically biological, whereas the genders are psychological, social, and (I believe) spiritual, and apply to realities with respect to which male and female are merely meaningless. I take gender to be the fundamental reality, and physical sex its expression; sex is a simpler and more symbolic rendering, in terms of matter, of the higher fact of gender.* However, the nature of masculine and feminine have been and are so culturally conditioned, sometimes in incompatible ways within the same society, that it may afford us a greater clarity to begin with what we can tell about gender from the body itself.

The most obvious distinction between the sexes is found in, well, sex. The male enters, acts, infuses from without; the female receives, absorbs, transforms from within. The male contribution to the act of procreation has the character of initiation: the female contribution, that of completion. The male body is built more to protect than to nurture, and the female, more to nurture than to protect. The physical contrast of the sex organs thus suggests something of the contrasted archetypes of gender. Yet at the same time, each sex coinheres with the other. Every woman and man has come into being from a previous union of the sexes, and each sex needs the other in this fashion even if the person in question is a lifelong celibate after being born. Both sexes are equally human, and yet humanity is a double: as the King James has it, God created man male and female.

From all this, before going on to each gender considered in itself, we can induce that the masculine and the feminine are defined by relationship to one another. The slogan 'It's all relative' is frequently set forth with sneers by Christians, yet there is a sense in which it can contain a profound truth -- provided that we answer the contextualizing question, 'Relative to what?' Once we know what things are relative to, and how they relate, then understanding those relations gives us a good -- if incomplete -- grasp of the things themselves.

Gender therefore contains a suggestion of the Trinity, which is Itself a substance, an essence, that subsists in unity with Itself, yet whose unity precisely consists in the coinherence of contrasted relations. The relationship between the Father and the Son is asymmetrical; likewise that between the Father and the Spirit; likewise that between the Son and the Spirit. 'Yet there are not three gods, but one God.'

This itself is repatterned in the relationship between Christ and the Church. Once again, the relationship is asymmetrical; once again, the two coinhere in one another -- so much so that on the one hand, when Saul of Tarsus was confronted by the vision of Christ resurrected, the rebuke he received for his hostility to the Church was expressed by the words, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?'; while on the other hand, the priest in the confessional, exercising an authority that is not his own, nevertheless pronounces the formula, 'I absolve you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.' And that image of Christ's coinherence with the Church, as the rechristened Paul says, has its own icon in the sacrament of Marriage -- that is, the divinization of sexuality. Male and female are made one ('neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance'); and that union is made into an image that is what it signifies: Christ's union with the Church; which is what it signifies: God's union with Himself. The great coinherence, of which Charles Williams wrote, runs up and down, not only the whole ladder of creation, but even the whole hierarchy of being.

So, we can start with everything that there is; we'll narrow it down from there.

*When I say higher here, I do not mean better. That has Gnostic implications. But spiritual things are higher than material things, in the sense that the soul is the natural lord of the body (St. Augustine taught that the disobedience of our bodies to our souls, notably with respect to sex, is a consequence of the Fall and not a natural state) and can comprehend both the body and itself, whereas any material thing, since matter is not intelligent, cannot understand itself or spiritual things.