Saturday, April 27, 2013
We are human, and we long to be loved. It's not just LGBTQ people who feel isolated and demeaned by the way that the sexual teachings of the Church are generally portrayed. For the most part the secular media puts forward the idea that there is a Catholic answer to every question about sex, and the answer is always “No.” Sadly, Catholic apologists tend to confirm this impression: “Can I use contraception if my wife refuses to have a baby or use NFP and I'm going completely bananas and finding myself compulsively gawking at teenage starlets on my iPad in the early hours of the morning?” “No.” “I go to my local Courage meeting every week, and attend daily Mass, and say fifteen rosaries a day, and wear seven different scapulars, and I still end up at the Bathhouse every Friday night. Wouldn't it be more prudent to get a permanent sexual partner so I don't get AIDS?” “Well, it's a tough situation, but...I would have to say...No.” “Is it okay if I make love to my wife in a Batman costume?” “Mmmm...it's not covered in the Catechism, but if I had to give an answer, based on what I understand of the dignity and beauty of the marital act, most likely your safest bet is...No."
Let's call this approach “negative chastity.” It's the form of the teaching that presents chastity solely in terms of “Just say no to sex!”. Saying “NO” is supposed to be a form of mortification which brings the person into closer union with Christ and schools the soul in self-control and self-possession. Yet overwhelmingly people do not experience union with Christ or self-possession: they experience overwhelming sexual frustration compounded by loneliness and depression. This experience cuts across the lines of sexual orientation to include parents who feel utterly overwhelmed by the task of parenting and who have recourse to contraception because there is no sense of real and concrete support from the Church; Priests who are socially isolated and abandoned by their parishioners and end up turning to sex as a form of relief; spouses who have discovered that marriage is not actually a relationship in which two people “complete” each other, and who now find themselves trying to navigate the demands of fidelity while their single friends continue to frequent the titty-bar.
This frustration is caused by a lack of companionship and solidarity. All forms of chastity demand communion and community because chastity is the virtue that is ordered towards the communio personarum. The most common cause of sexual sin is isolation and loneliness. The sexual appetite is an urge to overcome isolation, to give and receive another person. A person who is fulfilled in their daily life through other forms of “knowing and being known” will find that chastity frees them to be generous and loving and to receive love and generosity without the clinging neediness of sex. The problem is that most people in the contemporary world are literally starving for human communion, and sex fills that need at least temporarily.
Negative chastity, the kind of chastity that limits itself to saying “Thou shalt not,” has consistently failed to persuade the postmodern world because it is madness. The vast majority of people will eat things that are designated “unclean” by their religion or “unhealthy” by their doctors when faced with starvation. In most cases it's not even voluntary. Unless you have strengthened your will to a superhuman extent it's not possible to starve yourself to death. Likewise, unless you've devoted a huge number of character points to picking up the “Stoic” superpower you will simply not be able to endure the kind of social starvation that negative chastity demands in the contemporary world. The way that we live, our architecture, our social structures, our institutions, are all far too individualistic for it to even be possible. From the new institution of “the single life” to the catastrophic experiment of the “nuclear family” we have created a culture of isolation. In order to gain increased autonomy for the individual citizen and the individual family we have severed the ties that hold communities together. Within this insular existence sex is a powerful means of escape. Telling people that they can't have it is like telling a child who has eaten nothing in days that she shouldn't eat a lollipop because it's bad for her teeth. The distant threat of cavities will simply sound hollow and meaningless compared with the present experience of hunger pangs.
This is the point at which we tend to fall into the mistake of blaming society. There is some formless, nameless agency (or possibly a specific secret cabal of Freemasons, Zionists, Bilderbergers, or Reptilians) which is deliberately seeking to undermine human communion by creating conditions of social starvation and then offering sex as an evil and manipulative means of fulfilling them. The problem with this narrative is that it's highly pessimistic and ultimately unhelpful. A much more accurate way of looking at the situation is to recognize that modernism created a new vision of the self as an autonomous rationality, a distinct social agent to whom the state is naturally responsible and who is individually an “end in himself.” This model of personhood is very good in many respects. It recognizes the importance of free will and reason to humanity, it affirms that the human person is the ultimate end of politics and not visa versa, and it celebrates the dignity of each individual qua his individuality. All of these things are true and they are truths worth upholding.
But, but, but... all truth is subject to corruption. We are human, we err. The direction in which modernism errs is in overemphasizing human individuality at the expense of human communiality. The modern self will naturally tend towards loneliness and isolation as a means of protecting its autonomy and uniqueness. The great task which the modern world poses to the Church is that of finding a way of reconciling the individual self and the dignity of his individuality with the fact that we are made to image God through communion with other people. Society is not to blame for posing this problem, nor is it to blame for having put sex forward as its best attempt at a solution: the world can only ever provide solutions which are of the world. The job of the Church is not, therefore, to complain that the world is unable to do Her job for Her. It is to do that work which the world is literally incapable of doing: to take the worldly offering of the modern self and to sanctify and transform it, to incorporate it into the Body of Christ and then return it to the world in the form of Communion.
Thursday, April 11, 2013
I have now officially released my first self-published book! It's about money, providence, detachment, and the joys of poverty. There's the usual smattering of philosophy, occasional wild flights of hyperbole, and a lot of solid research: my husband and I read all of the Vatican social documents from the past hundred years, and scoured the Bible for quotations about money and poverty. The goal was to create something that would briefly but accurately portray the role that money is supposed to play in the lives of Christian laypeople. It's now available at ... and will be available on Amazon in the next 5 to 7 business days.
“It is impossible to serve both God and Mammon.” This is one of those hard sayings in the gospel that often causes people to go away sad. Material wealth seems like such an important part of happiness here on Earth that the cost of giving it up for Christ seems intolerable. Money secures so many basic human goods: freedom, choice, social status, dignity, self-respect, the ability to provide for others, and even life itself. Poverty may be a virtue: but surely it's one of those gruelling, unpleasant virtues which are reserved for people who have made religious vows.
Yet there is one thing that is difficult to explain. The people who have embraced the virtue of poverty have freedom, choice, love, dignity, self-respect, generosity and fullness of life. More so, in fact, than the people who have tried to obtain these things with gold.
Everybody knows, vaguely, that this is true. The question is, how do we go about proving it from day to day? When Mammon promises us the world, if only we will bow down and worship him, how do we find the faith to trust in God instead?
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
I wrote last time about how chastity is a grace, not a demand. This is a point about the Law which is frequently misunderstood, but it's all over Scripture. Psalm 119 gives us a portrait of what the Law is supposed to look like to the human heart: “Be good to your servant and I shall live, I shall observe your word. Open my eyes: I shall concentrate on the marvels of your Law. Exile though I am on earth, do not hide your commandments from me. My soul is overcome with an incessant longing for your rulings.” It goes on from there, as the psalmist rhapsodizes about how much he loves the commandments, how they have given him hope, comforted him in his suffering, kept him alive. This echoes the text of Deuteronomy where God lays out the blessings that will come to those who keep the commandments. (cf. Dt. 28:1-14) Those who do the will of God are promised that in doing it they will find joy, prosperity, increase, and life in abundance.
St. Paul develops this point in his discourses on the Law in his letter to the Galatians, but he takes this teaching in a strange new direction: “those who rely on the keeping of the Law are under a curse, since scripture says: Cursed be everyone who does not persevere in observing everything prescribed in the book of the Law. The Law will not justify anyone in the sight of God, because we are told: the righteous man finds life through faith. The Law is not even based on faith, since we are told: The man who practices these precepts finds life through practising them. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by being cursed for our sake, since scripture says: Cursed be everyone who is hanged on a tree.” (Gal. 3:10-13)
Untangling the point that St. Paul is making here can help us to understand what the Catechism means when it describes chastity as a “grace,” a gift. Paul's point is that there is a tendency for the faithful, whether the Jewish faithful of Paul's time, or the Catholic faithful of our own, to imagine that somehow by carrying out the precepts of the Law we are making ourselves worthy of salvation. Paul basically says that this is balderdash. It is impossible for anybody to be saved by the Law because nobody is capable of keeping its precepts: “scripture makes no exceptions when it says that sin is master everywhere.” (Gal. 3:22) The idea that if we can guarantee ourselves a place in Heaven by keeping the commandments and avoiding mortal sin is not only silly, it's dangerous. It makes the mistake of believing that human beings are capable, by their own efforts, of earning the unmerited and unmeritable grace of salvation.
So what's the point of the Law? Well, it's twofold. First, it's so that sinners will know that we are sinners. We're often a blind to how stupid and self-defeating the things that we want to do really are, and we have a bad habit of blaming other people when our bad decisions bear bad fruit. The Law lets us know that no, it's not someone else's fault, and yes, that really was a bad idea. It's a reality check that helps us not to do the same stupid thing over and over again always expecting different results. The second thing that the Law does is provide us with guidance for how to have a good and happy life. When God speaks blessings on those who keep His commandments its not because He's using a carrot-and-stick system of morality, it's because the keeping of the commandments is the means by which blessings and graces enter into our lives. The commandments are the blueprints for building up the irrigation systems by which the love of God flows into the soul and into society.
Now we come to the difficult question: if the Law is a source of blessing and joy, why do so many people experience it as a source of suffering and despair? The temptation here is to say “Those people are wicked. They have evil hearts and their desires are turned against God. They are unwilling to accept the good things that God is offering them because of their corrupt and perverse wills.” This is a bad way to look at it. The biggest reason that people experience the Law as a source of pain instead of a source of grace is that the conduits by which grace is supposed to be flowing into their lives are stopped up somewhere else along the line. This is the point that Dostoyevski makes through Father Zossima when he says “All are responsible for all.” If someone goes through the often painful process of breaking up the soil of their heart and digging irrigation ditches, and then the grace does not flow in, they will experience drought and thirst instead of receiving living water.
In the case of the homosexual community, the blessing which chastity is supposed to confer on people is the blessing of disinterested friendship. A lot of people make the mistake of believing that such friendship is somehow a degraded or lesser form of love, a consolation prize that is thrown to the gays in place of a more fulfilling, erotic love. This is not true. Genuine friendship is more fulfilling, not less fulfilling, than erotic love. Eros, desire, is naturally demanding and hungry, a point which Socrates makes in the Symposium. Even within marriage it is a very long and difficult process to transform this love into truly generous self-giving, and it is only possible because children are born to pull the couple out of themselves and out of the cycle of need and fulfilment that naturally characterizes eros. Friendship is much more generous, and much more able to fully see and appreciate the other because the vision of the beloved is not obscured by one's own desires.
This truth, however, is just a hollow platitude if there is a paucity of disinterested friends within the Christian community who are willing to make a sincere gift of self to LGBTQ converts. Too often, gays and lesbians seeking to know and experience the love Christ within our community find themselves suffering intense loneliness and abandonment – not because their hearts are pining for the forbidden fruit of gay lust, but because no one comes forward to offer them the grace of friendship which God wishes to bestow. Faced with this kind of painful isolation it is almost impossible for anyone to avoid consoling himself with temporary and disappointing pleasures. The sense of self-loathing that this tends to produce often become sufficiently overwhelming that people simply leave the Christian fold. Having been promised bread and given a stone they are wary to trust our promises again.
This is why Christ warns against laying up burdens for others without a raising a finger to lift them ourselves. Note, here, that Christ describes such burdens as “unendurable.” (cf. Luke 11:46) Without the living action of grace working through the Church in all of Her members, the Law ceases to yeild its blessings and becomes a curse. This is why preaching about the sinfulness of homosexuality is just empty, self-glorifying rhetoric unless we are willing to make the effort to build the systems of grace which will irrigate the seeds that Christ has planted in the souls of His beloved.
Saturday, April 6, 2013
I've been challenged recently to provide some suggestions for how we can actually reach out to LBGTQ people. This is a very large and complex question. I'd like to begin with this single point. We must offer something before we demand something.
This is consistently the modus operandi of Our Lord when dealing with people, and especially when dealing with sinners. The call to repentance comes after, not before, the healing, the feeding, or the deliverance. Christ begins by finding out what it is that His people need and then offers the thing that they are hungry or thirsty for. Only once He has established His credibility by making it clear that He is able to deliver on His promises does He tell people to “go and sin no more.”
We very often have this backwards. We point out that Christ told the woman in adultery to stop committing adultery, and so we think that we are following Him if we go around telling sinners not to sin. What we've missed here is that Christ doesn't tell the woman not to sin until He has dealt with all of her accusers. Let's look at this story in more detail, from an existential point of view, in order to understand the full psychological thrust of what it is that Christ is accomplishing with this woman.
The woman caught in adultery was guilty of sin and under the Mosaic code she was supposed to be condemned to death. At the point when Christ catches up with her she has already been tried and the Pharisees and faithful Jews are gathered around ready to subject her to a very painful death. We can all imagine the terror that this woman felt, her fear of her accusers. I think if we go a little deeper we can also imagine what kind of internal dialogue the woman must have felt. It's unlikely that she was prepared to think of her execution as a just and proportionate punishment – rarely do we understand punishment in this way. Almost certainly her head was churning with justifications, excuses, reasons why she had behaved the way that she had, counter-accusations to sling at her accusers. Her sense of powerlessness in the face of those who had the capacity to put her death would have made it very difficult for her to understand or deal with her own guilt.
Christ comes into the scene and does not begin by giving the woman a lecture on why adultery is sinful. He begins by giving her accusers a taste of their own medicine. In a very beautiful gloss on this passage it is explained that when Christ bends down to write in the dirt – a very mysterious action – what He writes are the mortal sins of the men who stand ready to stone the adulteress. These men lower their stones and go away leaving her unmolested, because each of them has seen his own guilt and knows that he too is condemned to death under the Law. I think it's safe to assume that Christ writes in the mud in order to avoid causing scandal or damage to the individual reputations of those gathered at the stoning. He respects their privacy and so simply makes a list of sins and allows each one to quietly and privately accept his guilt in the silence of his own heart.
Christ then says “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” The mob disbands and the woman is left with no one to accuse her. This is tremendously important: Christ has first shown the woman that her sin is not greater than the sins of other men, that she is a normal human being, and that God's mercy is real and abundant. We can imagine the gratitude that she must have felt, realizing that there was no one left to condemn her and that she wasn't going to die for her transgressions. It is here, at this moment when she has received the mercy of God as an emotional reality that He says to her “Sin no more.”
Okay, so this means that if we stand up and defend people against those who would accuse them and condemn them it gives us the right to make demands on them, right? No. When Christ says “Go and sin no more,” He is not saying “Quid pro quo.” He's offering her a further gift: the gift of chastity. God's generosity is pretty boundless, and He doesn't expect repayment. He's a Father. When you have kids and you impose rules on them, it's not because you think that by following the rules the children will somehow make themselves worthy of your love and of the life that you have bestowed on them. Any parent can see that that's just a crazy way of thinking about it – even though most of us have kids who think of it that way from time to time. The rules exist in order to keep the children happy and safe, not in order to make the kids pleasing to the parents. The kids are pleasing by default, even when they're cranky, or get toothache, or snivel, or throw things at their siblings. There's nothing that they can do in order to earn our love, or in order to make that love go away. In so far as we're good parents, the things that we “demand” of our kids are actually gifts that we try to give them which happen to be arduous to receive. The gift of peace between siblings, the gift of self-control, the gift of a healthy body, the gift of a well-formed intellect, these are all gifts which we can bestow only if the child is willing to co-operate and is willing to work, trusting in the benevolent will of their mother or father. None the less, they are gifts which are intended for the good of the child.
It's the same with God. Avoiding sin is not a bargaining chip that we offer to Jesus in order to make us worthy of His Body and Blood poured out on the cross. We are not called to avoid sin to pay our way out of Hell (which we can't do anyways) or to prove to God that we really love Him. We are called to avoid sin because in doing so we are empowered to trust in God enough to recieve the gifts that He desperately wants to give to us.
This is why it is disastrous when the gift of chastity is presented to people as a demand, an exchange of happiness in this life for happiness in the next life. It's not that at all. Chastity is good, not merely as a means of becoming a Saint in some future existence, but as a means of preserving dignity, integrity and happiness right now, in the present. The problem with Catholic outreach to sexual sinners is not that we don't tell them the truth about the sinfulness of sin, but rather that we do not show them, by our actions and our words, that God's love is bountiful, without limit, unmerited and unmeritable, available to all, capable of healing the most profound kinds of pain, utterly trustworthy, and directed towards the authentic goods of human life.
Friday, April 5, 2013
I'm responding to a letter from Michael Voris' staff, posted on the First Things web-site in the com-box. ChurchMilitant.tv writes:
We thank you for taking the time to write a lengthy rebuttal to our work; however, we feel that your comments are totally off base.
The entire point of the program is to help people see the homosexual sexual movement for what it is – a rejection of the divine and natural law. It wasn’t aimed at ardent homosexuals, but those who love and want to be apart of the church.
In actuality, we spoke the truth and if that’s hard for people to hear so be it. We’re told to preach the gospel in season and out of season. The point of the Christian life is to become a saint and not to hide, rethink, rework, or downplay the gospel. It needs no reworking or rethinking. What it needs is strong Catholics to go out and preach no matter the personal cost. Each person deserves to hear the truth in the clearest terms possible.
Now, in the comment section of your article you said, "My first five attempts to reveiw [sic] his work were just long catalogues of factual and logical errors that he makes. There's about one every two minutes, and eventually I realized …that a) it would take me thousands of words to detangle them all, and b) it would be more helpful to try to figure out what was driving these errors." Will you please provide us with just ONE of these so-called "factual and logical errors”? If there is an error we would like to correct it.
In conclusion, we want to extend an invitation for you to come on our Blog Talk Radio show. We produce this show live every Wednesday night @ 8:00 P.M. EST. We would love to discuss your article at more length.
ChurchMilitant.TV Research Staff
I was hoping to avoid having to do a point by point analysis of Voris' work, but it appears that some people think I'm bluffing. So here goes.
- In the definitions section, “homosexual” is referenced as an incorrect term. It is the term used by the Vatican.
- In the definitions section, “gay” and “lesbian” refer to people who practice homosexual sex. In common contemporary usage, they refer primarily to orientation and only secondarily to practice.
- Always Our Children is presented as a misleading/confusing document produced by lay people. The Vatican asked for revisions of AOC, the revisions were made, and the Vatican approved the document with those revisions. It is simply erroneous to promulgate the meme that this is a 'pro-gay' document, and to imply that it contradicts authentic Catholic teaching. This article by Richard Sparks, C.S.P, which is included as one of the supporting documents for the production, gives a more detailed explanation of the history and importance of the document. (EDIT Sat. April 6, 2013, 15:16: Some people have had a problem with Sparks as an authority. I only learned of Sparks through Voris' production, where he offers Sparks' article, linked above, as a supporting source. I have read the article and found it to be accurate, fair and compassionate -- it also has the imprimatur of the diocese where it was published. Please judge this work on the merits of the text itself, not on the reputation of its author. See additional remarks in the com-box.)
- “One can conclude that it's their [gays'] behaviour that's causing the problem,” the problem being elevated rates of mental illness in homosexuals. This is a very delicate topic, and the research into it is highly contentious and problematic. The production favours studies which do show elevated rates of mental illness, and then considers two reasons why this might occur: a) it could be caused by homophobia, b) it could be caused by behaviour. Since one of the studies was done in the Netherlands, where homosexuality today is acceptable, homophobia is dismissed, therefore it has to be behaviour. Amongst the many problems with this argument: a) it commits the post hoc propter hoc fallacy, b) it contains a false hidden premise (that there are only two possible explanations – I can think of at least five others, and c) the studies don't tell us whether rates of mental illness are the same or different in chaste vs. sexually active homosexual populations, which would seem to be an important question if we are going to conclude that behaviour is causing the problem.
- It is strongly implied that Ancient Greece is the only historical society in which homosexual relations were socially accepted in order to develop the inference that this is highly abnormal. Actually, they were widely accepted during certain historical periods in Japan, China, certain parts of India, the Arab world (there was a particularly fertile period of homoerotic Muslim poetry and spiritually during the late Middle Ages), pre-colonial America (this was one of the reasons why early Spanish missionaries to the Americas saw the existing cultures as barbarous and depraved), etc. etc.
- The entire “history” section suffers from massive Western chauvanism. The result is a misleading and lop-sided portrayal.
- Voris says that those who say that homosexuality has any genetic predisposition are “wrong.” This is neither Church teaching nor established scientific fact nor does he give adequate argumentation to support the claim.
- Scriptural quotations are consistently clipped in order to make them as harsh and condemning as possible, sometimes in a way that does damage to the actual text and its context (Romans 1, in particular)
- Misuse of the John Jay Report (This has already been dealt with in detail in the comments box by David Nickol at First Things)
- Blatantly scandalous hearsay from Gawker Magazine (a left-leaning scandal-mongering rag that published an anti-Catholic smear piece about the rate of homosexuality amongst Priests) is presented as though it represents reliable data about the state of the Catholic clergy.
- It is strongly implied that the entire mainstream media over the past twenty years has been guided by After the Ball. It's much more reasonable to believe that the gay rights movement naturally gained popular acceptance as a result of the wider implications of the sexual revolution and the rejection of the traditional family amongst heterosexuals.
- Paranoia abounds. This is strictly speaking not a factual error, but it is an extremely problematic form of thinking.
- There are constant uncharitable assumptions about the motivations of people involved in politics, the USCCB, and the APA. In order for Voris' theories to be true it would be necessary to assume an astounding lack of personal or professional integrity across the board. This violates the principle of Christian charity which demands that we assume that people are acting in good will until there is a sufficient body of evidence to suggest that they are not. Little attempt is made to give people the benefit of the doubt.
- Incidents in which individual people behave unusually badly are presented as though they represent the typical behaviour of gay activists. Kevin Jennings for example.
- Father Paul Check of Courage has specifically told me that it is a goal of Courage to be pastoral, not political. Check is cited saying that the Church offers homosexuals so much more than just “no.” It would be really helpful for both Catholic and homosexual viewers to see a more practical and detailed examination of what the Church is offering.
- NARTH's therapeutic explanations for the cause of homosexuality are presented as if they are both true and authoratative. The fact that the Catechism specifically tells us that the psychological genesis of homosexuality is largely unknown is not addressed. Nor is adequate attention paid to the fact that only a very small minority of psychologists – including Catholic psychologists – believe these theories.
- The following argument is offered: gay people have higher rates of mental illness than heterosexuals, therefore gay behaviour causes mental illness, therefore gay relationships cause psychological harm. It is assumed that the rates of mental illness and substance abuse found in a sample which includes a large number of promiscuous homosexuals will accurately reflect the experience of those in long-term relationships. In fact, the majority of statistical studies have found that being in a long term relationship is a major predictor of improved mental health outcomes for both straights and gays.
- A study finding that LGBTQ people consult mental health professionals at a higher rate than heterosexuals is given as evidence of poor mental health in gays and lesbians. Other possibilities are not considered (e.g. that mental health services are often visibly marketted to LGBTQ consumers, that consulting mental health service providers is generally linked to high levels of disposable income and free time, that the victimization tropes of the '90s have made it more acceptable for LGBTQ people to access such services, etc.)
- Benedict XVI said that “policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself.” This is presented as “The supreme pontiff has also used stronger words, stating that so-called same sex marriage "undermines the future of humanity itself." This is misleading: the Pope's statement is deliberately decontextualized in order to make it sound like a harsh and concerted attack on gay marriage when in fact the Pope is talking about the entire ensemble of policies that break down the family, not about gay marriage in particular.
- We are told, on the say so of one of NARTH's members that research clearly shows that children need a male parent and female parent to develop properly. Voris' production team did not actually familiarize themselves with the research itself, which is still largely inconclusive. There is no consideration of what implications this would have for the morality of allowing orphans to be raised by single-sex religious orders, which has been typical Catholic practice for centuries. (This one I do have to own up on. I gave the same argument myself in Sexual Authenticity. I hadn't thought it through.)
- The intervention of Western nations into African politics vis a vis discriminatory anti-gay policies is presented as evidence of cultural imperialism and a “Worldwide Push” in the gay agenda. Consideration is not given to the fact that in Africa there really are laws and policies (such as Uganda's proposed law to impose the death penalty on homosexuals, or “corrective rape” in South Africa) which Catholics are legitimately morally obliged to oppose because they violate the Catechism's teaching on the dignity of the homosexual person.
- The section on Harry Hay is just weird. Voris admits that no-one in the Mattachine society would even sign Hay's manifesto. Why does he not draw the obvious conclusion that Hay's position is on the outlying fringes of gay activism and that most gay activists are a lot more reasonable and moderate?
- Voris conflates “sexual orienatation” with “chosen sexual behaviour” in order to try to deny any legitimate affinity between the gay rights movement and the civil rights movement. This is very poor argumentation: it's a classic example of redefining the terms in mid-argument so that they will be better suited to making your point.
- This isn't a factual error, but it's a serious omission: The APA section portrays homosexual activists at the '72 conference as devious, disruptive and irrational. No mention is made of the fact that the homosexual activists were protesting a long history of medically motivated violence against homosexual persons, including “aversion therapy” (that would be a euphamism for torture), electroshock therapy, and castration.
- We're told that the removal of homosexuality from the DSM was political. It doesn't deal with the obvious question of whether its inclusion in the DSM in the first place was also political. Again, not a factual error per se, but evidence of bias and a lack of balanced reporting.
- The presentation lists the complete set of factors that may contribute to the formation of queer identity, and then “focuses in” on the father-wound explanation in a way that will likely give the impression that most homosexuality is caused by the explanations given by Fitzgibbons et al.
- NARTH's research is taken presumed reliable, and is not subjected to the same kind of scrutiny that is employed against Hooker and Kinsey. This is a double-standard in the evaluation of evidence.
- Cardinal Dolan, talking about contraception, is quoted as if he was talking about homosexuality. I think it's apropos here to point towards Dolan's recent statement that “We gotta do better to see that our defense of marriage is not reduced to an attack on gay people. And I admit, we haven’t been too good about that. We try our darndest to make sure we’re not anti-anybody...We’re still trying. We’re trying our best to do it. We got to listen to people. Jesus died on the cross for them as much as he did for me.”
- Ezekiel 16:50 is mentioned but not quoted. It is implied that if it were quoted it would substantiate Voris' argument. It actually undermines it. The quote is “the crime of your sister Sodom was pride, gluttony, arrogance, complacency; such were the sins of Sodom and her daughters. They never helped the poor and needy; they were proud and engaged in filthy practices in front of me.” (Ezekial 16:50-51) This is a case where the Bible self-interprets, and the interpretation that it gives is contrary to the widespread belief that Sodom was destroyed for homosexuality. We're told here, very specifically, what it was destroyed for, and “sodomy” is not on the list.
- No discussion of the obvious fact that the sexuality portrayed in Sodom was ritualized gang-rape of supernatural beings (angels), not consensual sex between human male individuals.
- Jude 7, an ambiguous text, is presumed to refer to homosexuality. It might, but the text certainly doesn't make this explicit.
- The fact that homosexual acts may be non-culpable is mentioned very briefly and then skipped over. Throughout the presentation, and in Voris' other works, he routinely argues as though anyone who has gay sex is going to go to hell for it. This is one of those focus things, there isn't a factual error but the interpretation that the audience will draw is not in fact in accord with Catholic teaching. The fact that a very large proportion of all homosexual acts being committed in the contemporary West probably don't meet the criterion of full knowledge and full consent of the will required for a sin to be mortal is an important consideration. It's not something to “save for another discussion.”
- The Church does not teach that it is sinful to vote for a politician who supports SSM. Catholics are supposed to vote in accord with their consciences by evaluating the options available to them with regards to the whole teaching of the gospel. That includes social justice and peace issues as well as sexual morality and abortion.
- The Church does not teach that it is sinful to keep quiet if the topic of homosexuality comes up in discussion with friends and family. St. Thomas Aquinas points out that one ought not to give fraternal correction in cases where it is likely to make the person being corrected worse. Holding one's tongue in cases where speaking up will do more harm than good is not a form of “support” for homosexuality, it's the virtue of prudence.
- As an overarching concern Voris promises that he's going to show what homosexual people struggle with, what we suffer, what we're really going through. Most of the real sufferings and struggles of faithful SSA Catholics are not even given a glancing mention in this production.
- Viewers are told to help SSA Catholics shoulder the cross of homosexuality. There is no advice given as to what this practically involves. This is a glaring oversight.
- There are also some general problems throughout that occur with too much frequency to document each instance. One of the big ones is decontextualization: quotations are excised from their context in a way that gives them a meaning which is at odds with the actual intent of the source material. This is a valid film-making technique if you are producing a work of post-modern deconstructionist art, but it's irresponsible as journalism.
- The sources are highly inbred and selective. We're told “There were over 500 research hours devoted to this program, and many documents were used and referenced.” The bibliography shows that a disproportionate number of sources are actually from NARTH. See my other work, and Warren Throckmorton's blog, for a detailed discussion of why this is problematic.
- Michael Voris in his defense of his work says “We talked to all kinds of people.” It's clear that few of his 500+ research hours were spent talking to people who have actual experience of same-sex attraction. In his Micd Up defense of his production he admits that he once talked to a homosexual colleague for four hours straight about homosexuality and that he listened for only two minutes.
- This isn't in the video, but it's a frank admission that my fundamental criticism of Voris work is bang on: Voris says “The idea that what it says, or how it says looks like 'raving homophobic lunacy' to someone who disagrees with it is totally beside the point. I don't care how someone who disagrees with it thinks.” It is impossible to enter into dialogue with people if you don't care how they think. This is contrary to the teaching on the Church on the importance of communion, solidarity and understanding in evangelization. Voris has given, in this sentence, a clear and concise explanation of the deepest level problem with his film. No matter how many times he says that we should be compassionate and charitable, or tells his viewers that he is being compassionate and charitable, what the production overwhelmingly conveys is that he doesn't actually care about people who do not think as he does.
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
I posted a review on the First Things web-site of Michael Voris' FBI: Homosexuality, and it's raised a few hackles in the com-box. My basic thesis is the Voris' production is not really an effort in evangelism or apologetics, so much as it is an expression of grief over the loss of America's Christian identity. I point out that grief is a process which ends in acceptance, and that you can't really move on and start building a new life – or a new evangelization – at any of the earlier stages of grieving. So long as Catholics are still deeply upset, angry, and horrified at the widespread social acceptance of homosexuality, and remain in denial about the fact that gay marriage is going to be a political reality in the very near future (as it already is in my home country), there's no way of effectively preaching the gospel to homosexuals.
It's just not reasonable to imagine that a gay audience will be able to relate in any way to a production in which the advance of LGBTQ rights is seen as an attack on the foundations of civilization, or where pictures of same-sex couples in uniform embracing on the pier are supposed to produce a reaction of shock horror. It seems an obvious point, but practicing gays find the idea of gay sex appealing, not appalling. The fact that Voris, and many conservative Catholics, seem to consistently miss this in their attempts to “evangelize” the homosexual community suggests that we're dealing with a serious psychological blind-spot. I'm suggesting that this blind-spot is the result of Catholics being unable to see past their own pain in order to really reach the heart of LGBTQ folks. Voris promises to grapple with the suffering that same-sex attracted people face, but the truth is that what he deals with is the suffering that he faces as a result of other people's homosexuality. He projects his own pain onto LGBTQ folks, and assumes that the same things which would bring him relief would also bring relief to homosexuals. Alas, if only it were that simple.
I am also suggesting, however, that Voris' feelings are completely legitimate. A lot of people in the First Things com-box seem to be in a similar heart-space to Voris, and that's fine. It's reasonable. It really is all right to grieve. I'm not getting up on a pedestal here and saying “Hey, you should be just like me. I've accepted the way that the world is, and I'm a better person for it.” No. I'm not grieving the loss of America as a Christian nation because a) I'm not American, and b) I have no concept of what it's like to live in a Christian nation. That doesn't make me more mature, or a better Christian, it just means that I'm in a better psychological position to understand why something like Voris' presentation is totally counterproductive. People who feel like Voris' presentation is rational, compassionate and truthful don't need to gird up their loins, pull themselves together, and accept the breakdown of society in order to better reach out to the LGBTQ community. They need to give themselves permission to take time out to grieve.
This is something that I had to deal with myself when I made the decision to talk about my own experience. There was a long period, several years, during which I felt a kind of weird psychological compulsion to get out there and warn people away from the gay community, but at the same time I was consistenly frustrated with my efforts. It all just seemed futile, like preaching to the deaf. I didn't really understand what my mistake was until after OSV accepted the book proposal for Sexual Authenticity. I wrote my first draft, and my husband panned it as total crap. He said it was inauthentic. I realized that what I was coming up against was a whole series of internal resistances that had to do with unresolved grief. I hated the person that I had been as a young woman. I wanted to ritually put her to death in the public sphere in order to psychologically distance myself from her as a means of escaping from my own feelings of shame and my anger against myself.
That meant that suddenly I was on a dead-line to deal with a lot of intense psychological pain. There was a date when I supposed to hand in a manuscript, and I couldn't produce a manuscript worth handing in until I'd worked through my personal issues. I had to go back and look at my former self in a more realistic way, to try to see her as Christ did, as someone who was worth paying for in blood. I had to get past my own negative self-stereotyping, to see past the fact that I had been confused, atheistic, occasionally nihilistic, frequently narcissistic, suicidal, self-harming, self-isolating, and unbearably intellectual proud. This involved two very difficult things. The first was to go back into my memories and to identify with this creature that I had come to loathe in order to unearth the qualities which made her beautiful. I had to try to remember what it was that made me fall in love with my girlfriend, and to see in that a desire for genuine communion with another human being. I had to accept that all of the ugly and erroneous philosophies that I had embraced over the years had represented an authentic deep-seated desire to know and live the truth. I had to pick through the psychological slag-heap of my past in order to reclaim all of the bits of my authentic identity that I had cast off in my anxiety to become a “new creation in Christ.” That was hard because it meant reconciling with the fact that the enemy which I saw in the larger culture, the gay agenda, the mass media, the pro-choice movement, and countless other pet bugaboos of the Christian-right, was actually me. Also, it means recognizing that my enemies were actually beautiful people, beloved of God, seeking the Good, the Beautiful and the True as earnestly and imperfectly as I do myself.
Secondly, it involved recognizing that I still am all of those negative qualities that I wanted to project into the past. My confusion, doubts, depression, self-loathing, intellectual pride, and prickly resistance to human love are not black relics of a dark past. They are present realities. I really am, as St. Paul says in th second chapter of Romans, no better than the people that I want to judge.
What I mean by acceptance, then, is this process. It's not a political thing - accepting gay marriage, or accepting the homosexual agenda in the schools, or any kind of simple superficial ideological stance that a person can take up or put down at will. I mean a difficult psychological project which involves grappling within one's own heart to get to the point where it is possible to look at the “militant homosexual activists” who are undermining Christian marriage, attacking the Church, corrupting the youth – however you want to see it – of being able to say “these are people after my own heart. My brothers and sisters. We are the same.”