Wednesday, December 9, 2009
I also wanted to respond to a couple of things that people have posted, so I'll run through that quickly. I have to say that I like Canada. It's funny, Americans think that the totalitarian things that we have to deal with are terrifying, and we think that the police-state post-9/11 terror watch shtick is worse. Probably it's just a matter of the devil you know vs. the devil you don't. I am familiar with the Home School Defense people -- I discovered them when I was worried that we were going to have to go to court to keep the CAS out of our house (my daughter's godfather is a criminal lawyer and was willing to write letters for us, but if we'd gone to court we'd have needed someone who knew family law.) I also know about Michael O'Brien. I might have met him -- if not, everyone that I know, including my husband, has. It's a small world up here in icy Ontario.
With regards to homeschool, I go back and forth on whether or not I would put my kids into Catholic school if I could. The basic problem is that we're all eccentric, and none of us deal very will with large groups of people. I want my kids to grow up knowing that they can afford to be unique, that they don't need to fall in with the crowd. I love Catholics, but at the same time another young Catholic mother that I know has had difficulty with the culture in a really great Catholic school, simply because she's strange, and wild, and flighty, and doesn't fit in with the slightly mousy, pious, reasonably respectable types that people the majority of arch-orthodox Catholic establishments. It's hard, because if you're odd, you're odd wherever you go -- and I am undoubtedly odd.
I think that's part of why I ended up being attracted to the gay/lesbian community, because it was a place where you could afford to be "queer," and particularly where you could afford to be queer in the old-fashioned sense of the word. Eccentricity was a bonus, not a liability. Even to this day, when I got dumped into a group of 103 randomly selected people (long story), I gravitated towards the lesbian-identified neo-pagan. I wasn't "attracted" to her sexually, but we could talk comfortably with one another, whereas with "normal" people I'm completely at a loss. Either I put my personality in a box and behave like some sort of absurd cardboard cut-out "good mother" type, or I quickly find that I am out of place. Fortunately, I've discovered the Catholic eccentrics of the world, so I'm able to be happy in my little pond, swimming about with all the other odd ducks.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Or, rather, it can canceled if we let the Children's Aid in. As I said above, the term "neglect" is exceedingly ill-defined, and reading over the CAS guidelines it immediately becomes clear that it really is almost entirely up to the "discretion of the worker," in other words, if the worker doesn't like the way you homeschool (and they generally do not like homeschoolers -- they think that homeschooled children are endangered because it's impossible to interview homeschooled kids without the parents' knowledge while they're at school), then they will be able to find enough evidence to make your life hell for months/years. At least this is the situation that other homeschool families have described to us.
My advice: don't let them in. You have a legal right to say no when they ask to come into your house, and to refuse to allow them to interview your children. If they call or come to the door simply say, "I'm sorry, I'll have to talk to my lawyer," then go and find yourself a good pro-life lawyer. In most cases the reports are spurious; because there is no actual abuse or neglect going on, there is no convincing evidence of abuse or neglect included in the report to the Children's Aid. They will make threats, and tell you that they can come and take your kids into custody in order to question them, or that they're going to get a supervision order to come in and invade your house on a weekly basis for three to twelve months, etc. etc. but the fact is that unless they have enough evidence against you to obtain a warrant, the threats are empty.
It involves a tremendous amount of stress, of course, but at least it's only stress.
(This is, of course, the reason that I've been particularly focusing on questions of legality -- why sodomy laws and other intrusive anti-gay legislation are totally ineffectual, not to mention exceedingly uncharitable.)
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Obviously not possible; as Marshal McLuhan tells us, "the medium is the message." Talk radio is fast, it's supposed to be controversial and engaging (no bonus points for me here -- I'll never make a good right-wing pundit, though perhaps with some work I could make a decent radio guest). So the question is, how do you give a fast, engaging, controversial answer that will actually do the caller some good?
I don't know. I'll mull it over in my mind, and perhaps I'll come up with something -- if not an answer that would work on talk radio, at least one short and sweet enough to function in the blogsphere.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
The bill probably doesn't directly concern you and I but it highlights the need for Catholics to uphold both sides of the Church's teaching on homosexuality.
The proposed bill would provide increased penalties for homosexual behaviour in Uganda (gay sex is already illegal in Uganda) including the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality" (i.e. homosexual relations with a person under eighteen, homosexual relations with a disabled person, any homosexual relations if the accused is HIV positive, and "serial" offenses.) It also provides substantial penalties for any group or organization that promotes homosexuality, and for any authority who fails to report known violations of the act.
It is an interesting piece of legislation, because it is one in which the spirit is -- in many respects -- quite laudable, but the letter is dangerous and unjust. The goals, outlined in the early portion of the bill, are to safeguard the traditional family, to protect the culture and values of Uganda, and to safeguard people (particularly children) from pro-gay propaganda flowing in alongside Western aid. So far, so good. Another obvious, but not explicitly outlined goal is clearly the prevention of the spread of HIV/AIDS through homosexual relations -- this is a particular concern in Africa because same-sex attracted people do not generally gay-identify or live a gay lifestyle; most same-sex attracted Africans are married, which means that if they contract HIV homosexually, they may infect their wife/children.
The moral difficulties, from a Catholic perspective, lie with the application of the death penalty, and the idea of a penalty for people who fail to inform on others whom they know to be guilty. It is here that we arrive at the other side of Catholic teaching on homosexuality: the teaching that while homosexual sex is intrinsically immoral, homosexual persons "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided." (CCC 2358)
It is important, if Catholics are going to bring the Gospel into the lives of homosexuals, that this second part of our teaching be upheld and proclaimed just as vociferously as the condemnation of homosexual relations. It is because we too often fail in this respect that we are painted as homophobic. The proposed Ugandan legislation not only represents unjust discrimination, it would also -- by virtue of its provision that authorities must report or face fines and imprisonment -- make it even more difficult for Ugandans dealing with same-sex attractions to seek out spiritual advice and counsel from their priests and pastors. Increased fear of persecution isolates those who are most in need of support, it drives homosexuality underground and prevents people with homosexual desires from being able to deal with their temptations within the context of a supportive, moral, Christian community.
Monday, October 26, 2009
I have been thinking a lot about my daughterhood in the past month -- what it means to be God's daughter, and what it means for Him to be my father. I have, as anyone who follows this blog will know, been out of communication for the past month and a half. This is on account of a family crisis, which I am not going to describe in any detail right now (maybe later -- the fog of paranoia is still a little too thick for me to say anything of substance in a public forum). The point is that it has been very difficult, and that a lot of family relationships have shifted: those that were already weakened have become more strained, those that were already strong have become stronger. There is something in trial that separates these things out clearly; suddenly you know exactly who you really trust -- not just because those whom you can't trust abandon you, but because you start looking around for the clearest steps forward, the firm ground where you know you will be able to find footing, and you can see exactly where it is.
Strangely enough, God comes under this heading as well. Not that God is not firm ground, or that He is not trustworthy, but there is something in the human heart that doesn't quite trust. When things are going well, good enough. We can raise up our hands and sing out hallelujahs and cry "Praise to the Lord of Hosts!" Amen. It is easy to speak casually about God the Father in such times, because you are thinking of a father as someone that you see on Sunday for dinner, someone to whom you tell jokes as worn-out and comfortable as old socks, someone that you can build a shed with on a lazy autumn afternoon. When things are bad it is a different matter, because suddenly God must be not merely a father, but a Father who simultaneously has the power to rescue you from whatever is happening, and a Magus who has made the decision to pose you a very difficult and painful riddle. This is when it becomes necessary not merely to love, but to love with faith, to trust, which is much more difficult. To say, "Lord, you have allowed all of this to happen, and I don't understand why, and now I want you to get me out of it." But at the back of your head you're always thinking, "But if you let it happen in the first place, then why should I think you're going to help me now..." Which is why we return to daughterhood, to a trust that has to sink deeper than just the belief in some sort of magician who will rescue you, deus ex machina style, from all your woes, to a trust that God is not merely going to save us in the future, but is saving us now. That it is all an expression of his Fatherly love for us.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
The difference has to do with the kinds of offenses being committed, and the purposes for legislation. If someone is committing a sin because he/she is hoping to make money off the deal, then legislation makes sense: provided you impose stiff enough penalties that a cost-benefit analysis will lead people to choose a more productive lifestyle, you will probably convince at least the more rational members of society to behave themselves. Sins of weakness, on the other hand, are a completely different matter. People do not, for the most part, frequent prostitutes, view pornography, have gay sex or abuse drugs because they have sat down and made a utilitarian calculation, and have come to the conclusion that when all is said and done the pain-pleasure balance comes down in favour or their addiction. Stiffer penalties, jail-time, fines, crack-downs and so forth will not change people's behaviours in these cases, on the contrary, I think that usually they will end up having the opposite effect: a person who is using some sort of addictive behaviour in order to deal with stress, loneliness, fear, etc. will find that the ever penetrating eye of big-brotherly social concern produces greater paranoia, greater fear, greater loneliness, greater stress -- and the vicious circle will tighten itself predictably around their throat. Real methods of helping people in these situations involve much more delicate instruments than those available to the state (even in its most paternalistic, soft-pedaled, compassionate-society forms). Real relationships, trust, support, understanding, genuine personal compassion, and the deep humility necessary for us to understand that we are not helping from a position of superiority, but as fellow sinners; these are required in order to lead people out of private vice. They are necessary to penetrate the barriers of secrecy without violating the sanctity of personal privacy. They are the responsibility of every Christian, and it is a responsibility that cannot be fobbed off on police and government.
Friday, September 11, 2009
The relationship of such ideas to the idea of the "gift of self," the human person, and especially the body, as gift in the Theology of the Body is obvious. Hyde has the advantage over JPII of writing prose that is much more easily penetrated (JPII has the advantage of being the Pope, with all of the attendant theological acumen and authority, but for those who have tried to slog through TOB and have ended up scratching their heads in frank confusion, this book is not nearly so dense, nor so repetitive.) What I find especially interesting is that both works have had a similar effect on me, in terms of the subjective experience of reading -- the super-textual communication that is effected by any truly beautiful of human genius. There is a particular kind of awe, an enlivening of the intellect, a host of connections and insights that are not explicitly laid out in the text, but which a really living work sparks in the mind, so that, in a sense, the work could be said to be different for every reader, without losing its ability to communicate really profound meanings. I suppose one might say that it is the increase in worth that comes when the gift of the book is communicated between the author and the reader...
Anyway, highly recommended reading.
I should also put in a plug for Fr. John Waiss' "Born to Love II," which is a series of dialogues about homosexuality. I don't recall the name of the publisher, and my computer is being particularly obtuse at the moment (it doesn't want to open multiple windows, or really do anything. I'm seriously taxing it's resources by making it accept this blog entry. I think it has become prematurely old and cantankerous. Fortunately, it is going to soon be replaced by a shiny new computer. But then, perhaps it realizes that it is about to be put out to pasture and that is why it is being so curmudgeonly. One never knows.) The point is, I'll try to give the publisher, etc. the next time I blog.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
My father I already dealt with, albeit obliquely, in part I. I want to devote this meditation to my sisters, as a group. Kristen I will deal with separately, tomorrow or the next time that I'm able to write.
I had five sisters: Laura, Jamie, Kristen, Alicia, Brianna. All are younger than me. Laura is married, Jamie is the Executive Director of an NGO out in Africa, Alicia is studying to be a midwife and Brianna is just now going into University. Kristen was killed in a car accident several years back, which is why she is going to get her own, special, separate blog entry.
At the time when I was I still an atheist, most of my sisters were too young to enter into any serious philosophical disagreement with me. Laura was old enough, and she was Christian (non-denominational with strong evangelical tendencies), Jamie was old enough and she, like me, had fallen away from Christianity. The others were small.
Laura and I used to argue about God, and morality, and so forth. She once quipped that although she could never beat me in an argument, this didn't especially perturb me: she would just wait a couple of months and then I would give her the counter-arguments to whatever I had been preaching the last time we argued. She did, however, have the honour of being the first to show me the difference between homophobia and Christian orthodoxy. I had recently come out of the closet, and inevitably, some time having passed, I prodded Laura to see what she had to say about the matter. She said something to the effect of, "I think that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is wrong, but I don't think that should change my relationship with you." Now I had always been told that this was essentially unacceptable, that not to accept a gay person's gayness was not to accept the person, that it "is who I am" and if you don't affirm it, you don't love me. The problem was that I was not stupid, and although I'd always been inclined to toe the party line on this point, now that I was faced with this allegedly homophobic "hate the sin/love the sinner" (or, perhaps more accurately, "believe that the sin is a sin/love the sinner") position, I found that I couldn't offer any sort of emotional, or rational objection to it. If her religion said that my sexuality was sinful, then how on earth could I say that she had to change her religion or she didn't love me? It was just such a monumentally obvious hypocrisy: she wasn't saying that I had to change my beliefs and lifestyle if I really loved her, how could I demand the reverse? So that particular bit of liberal cultural detritus went out the window with Laura. She was Christian, she believed in Christianity, she loved me, we were sisters. I felt I was mature enough that I could handle her polite, charitable, unforceful, yet clear disagreement with my sexuality.
The others have been a part of my life in more ways than I could possibly name. Jamie is always there to pull me back from the edge of narrow-bandwidth Christian Conservativism, to make sure that I don't wander off into the delightful, but insular world of Chestertonians in plaid jumpers. She has always helped me to see the beauty in the modern world, and the honour and dignity in the struggle of humanity to stay human in the midst of the Culture of Death. In terms of writing my book, I had her in mind a lot of the time. I kept thinking, "how can I say this? If I were writing this as a personal letter to Jamie, what would I put in?" It helped, I think, to keep me from wandering off too much into vain and contemptuous rants, or from jumping to uncharitable conclusions, because Jamie really does represent the other side of the debate at its absolute best: she is a chaste woman, a believing Christian (a recent development, but it was always sure to happen sooner or later), and a deeply compassionate person. Her support for homosexuality is not superficial or ill-informed; she has worked in AIDS hospice and has had a number of exceedingly close relationships with gay men. Anything that I couldn't say about Jamie, I could not say about people who support homosexuality in general, because she would be the disproof.
Alicia and Brianna are my little sisters. This is not to belittle their part in my lives, but it means that they were not so much involved during the period before my conversion. What I can say of all of my sisters is that having so many of them, and having had, at every stage of my life, the experience of being in a large family, or being loved by people who were at the same time so similar and yet so different from me, has completely shaped my personality and my beliefs. It was because of them that I knew, as soon as I had my first child, that I was going to have to have more. Because the relationship that I've had with sisters is one of the great treasures of my life, it is something which no amount of extra baubles or new clothes could possibly have compared with. I have heard of children who have been asked "Would you rather have a new baby, or a trip to DisneyLand in the fall?" (What parent involves their kids in a decision to abort, I don't know. Creepy.) I can tell you, I've had sisters, and I've been to DisneyLand. Family is a joy that continues throughout life, and which is utterly irreplaceable. DisneyLand is an overcrowded theme park, and ultimately neither life-shaping, magical, or unforgetable. So I'll take the new baby over the new car, the new hedge, the new TV, and the family vacation. It's the better deal, every time. I know. My sisters showed me.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
A diagnosis of autism sounds like something terrible. The general picture is of a totally withdrawn child, rocking to himself, occasionally uttering pitiable sounds, who will one day grow up into a weird, silent adult who can recite the phone book and do jigsaw puzzles with amazing alacrity. Now I'm not going to deny that this, or something like this, is part of the reality for some people with autism, but the fact is that autism (or, rather, the autism spectrum conditions) extend to cover a lot of people who are much "higher functioning" than the child in that picture. (I actually dislike the turn "high functioning," just like I dislike the term "developing world," and the term "persons of aboriginal descent" because it falls into that category of weird terms that are going out of their way to be political correct -- to such a degree that they necessarily embody a wealth of self-important condescension. However, it is, to the best of my knowledge, the only term going, and coining an even more self-important neologism so that I can be better than the self-important politically-correct faction would only compound the problem...) So, my little Ulysses is two, and he has a number of strange repetitive behaviours, and he is very ritualistic (we went to the forest to go hiking; it was his second time out -- the first time he was very upset about being there and it took him a long time to get his bearings because it was a new situation. This time, it was familiar, so it was okay. But when we got to the washrooms, and I walked past them, he got confused and he kept trying to pull me back -- he wouldn't go the rest of the way down the path. Until we had gone into the washrooms, he wouldn't go on, because the first time that we came we went into the washrooms, so that's part of the routine. After we went into the washrooms, he followed me down to the river and threw stones in, no problem.) Also, he does not talk. Occasionally, single words, like this morning he pressed my nose and said "beep," and every so often he points to his little sister and says "baby," but he's not so much one for verbalization. He's a funny little guy, but I can't really fall in step with all of the mothers who feel that they have "lost" their child when they get an autism diagnosis. I can understand why they feel that way -- what is lost is the desire to have a particular kind of child, and the dream that one's own particular son or daughter will turn out to be everything that one has hoped for. It is difficult, and I imagine that it is much more difficult for people who intend only to have one or two children (especially if the vasectomy has already been plied by the time that the diagnosis is made.) For me, well, I'm not going for one perfect little girl and one perfect little boy. I can afford to broaden the field and have one perfect little Valkyrie, and one perfect little Princess, and one perfect little Magus, and one perfect little autistic boy, and so on. (I can't give Barbara an archetype yet, because she's only two months.) It's not just that having five children means that I can spread out all my hopes and dreams for my kids across the five of them, it's that seeing how different they all are, and how unique and unrepeatable, makes me realize how silly and shallow all of my hopes and dreams were in the first place. It makes me realize that God has a character concept for each of these little people, and that His ideas are much better than mine would have been. So I'm not inclined to go about grooming them into my ideal. Better to try to figure out what God intended with this particular person, and then help that to emerge and take shape. Education and formation instead of programming.
So Ulysses is not going to be a "normal" little boy. Now I just have to go about figuring out which beautiful variation of the human theme God intends to play through this particular instrument.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
In the life of any given Catholic there will probably be relatively few instances where you are actually there for the moment of realization -- where you get to see the work of evangelization springing to new life. It is beautiful to see, but the reality is that we are usually working in the dark, serving our brothers and sisters through word and example without seeing the fruits of our labours.
Yesterday, I set up the conditions of my turning away from God. In the next couple of posts, I am going to try to do my best to repeat a fruitful exercise which I discovered in the writings of Marcus Aurelius. Marcus' Meditations begin with a reflection on those who have led him to his current state of life, concentrating not on the trials and troubles that he has suffered, but rather on the good that has come to him through his relationships. I will begin with my mother.
My mother always insisted that I was going to come back to Christ. She didn't do it in a wild fanatical way -- my mother is nothing if not a practical woman. I would start trying to pick a fight about the Christian world-view, and she, without giving any good arguments at all, would simply insist that I would eventually come back to the church.
At the same time, she observed one of the major tennets of her philosophy of motherhood: "There are two gifts that we must give our children, one is roots, the other is wings." Yes, my mother is a sentimentalist, but that has never prevented her from being a good and wise mother.
Throughout all of the years that I was an atheist and a lesbian, my mother's primary role in my life was to be there, absolutely dependable, offering unconditional love. We faught, of course, as teenagers and parents will fight, but I never had the slightest doubt that I could do anything and she would forgive and continue to love me. She generally didn't argue and try to persuade me of things, because that wasn't what she had to offer, and in any case, I was of that persistent adolescent delusion that I knew better than my elders who were, for the most part, backwards fuddy-duddies (at least in my modern, enlightened, progressive opinion...)
Often parents confronted with a wayward child will take the opposite approach. They will see the problem as something that needs to be dealt with, right now, before the child falls any further into sin and error. They try to micro-manage the conversion back to God that they hope will take place, to force it to happen before any great damage is done.
Unfortunately, this cannot work. The parent is like the prophet in his hometown; they are generally too close to their children to be able to engineer the changes that they would like to bring about. This is especially true during adolescence, when the child is first spreading her wings and trying to get out of the nest. If the parent lets go, sooner or later the child will get her bearings, realize that she doesn't know everything, and start, tentatively, to develop a new, adult respect for her forebears. Through this process, we go from having respect for our parents simply because they are our parents -- the natural respect of dependant children -- to having respect for our parents because we can see their wisdom.
The two preconditions for this are unconditional love: an enduring interest in the good of the child that is not broken or weakened during the difficult period of rebellion and letting go; and trust: the willingness to genuinely let the child make her own mistakes, always believing that sooner or later she will find her way onto the right path. Cheesy and sentimental as the embroidered plaque over my mother's door is, it's absolutely right: roots and wings. If the former is lacking, the child will slowly drift away into her life and will never develop an adult respect. If the latter is lacking, the period of adolescent-style tension will draw itself out indefinitely, until either the parent learns to let go, or the parent dies. The mother who is still telling her forty year old son how to live his life, because she "sees no evidence that he is capable of taking real responsibility for himself" is directly responsible for the fact that he evinces no such evidence. She has not given him permission to grow up.
I want to begin then, by giving thanks to my mother, for giving me the invaluable gift of providing me with a solid foundation to which I could return when I found that my philosophies were crumbling around me, and also for allowing me to go out into the world to seek my fortune.
Monday, July 27, 2009
I was born into a liberal but quite devout Anglican home; I went to Sunday school, was part of the local parish's "apostles club," read abridged stories for children about St. Paul, and so forth. I liked our pastor because he gave sermons where he used Star Trek to elucidate spiritual points, and I never encountered any of the hatred, gay-bashing, etc. that are supposed to abound in Christian congregations. Church was a place full of wonderful old Jamaican women who cooked incredible jerk chicken, and nice middle-class white folks like my parents.
I was about twelve or thirteen when I started to have doubts about Christianity. I think that if I had taken these doubts to someone qualified they could have been put to rest fairly easily, but my mother was never someone with whom I could have debates, and my father and I tended not to talk about anything more complicated than squirrels and science fiction. At one point I did talk to my dad about God -- or rather, he talked to me. He said that the moment when he knew God existed was when he was out in the mountains in Western Canada. It was, I think, one of the only times when I had a sense of that deeper interior life that lurks beneath my dad's ability to recite Monty Python sketches by heart, and his extensive knowledge of the llama glama. It effected me much more than I ever said, but it was not enough to really put my doubts to silence.
The issue came to a head when my mother wanted me to get confirmed. I was of the proper age, and she assumed that I would go ahead and become a full member of the Anglican church. I reacted quite strongly against this, and we ended up fighting about it for several months.
Unfortunately, the only Christians who I really took my concerns to were my aunt's Gospel Hall congregation. We used to get summoned to their baptisms (adult baptism, full immersion) and the preacher would get up and beat the pulpit and admonish us sinners who were there to support our cousins. "Ye must be born again!" pound "Ye must be born again!" It really wasn't that far removed from the charicatures of fundamentalism that one sees in the media. In any case, I was sitting in one of their Sunday-school type sessions and they were expounding on how God would do anything that we asked of Him, and I expressed my reservations on this score. It seemed to me that they were promising a magician God, and I could see little evidence of this divine conjurer in my own life. The poor Sunday-school woman didn't seem to have ever encountered the junior atheist division before, and the conversation was not particularly enlightening. She quoted scripture, I profered exceedingly simplistic rational arguments, and neither of us went away enlightened.
So I became an atheist. Over the years, as I absorbed more and more of the anti-Christian memes that were circulating through the high-school atmosphere, I went from being a straightforward agnostic to a hardened atheist, totally derisive of the Christian faith, and convinced that if there was a God at all, it was not the God of Christianity.
Tomorrow, we'll continue.
I should have been clearer. I don't have a problem with simplicity per se, when there is genuine simplicity, wed to genuine humility, it is exceedingly beautiful, like light flashing out through the clouds, and people react to it accordingly. Our jaded, "Oh, well, it could never be that easy..." reaction falls away, and we stop critiquing according to all of these ideas of sophistication, because it is absolutely real and undeniable. The problem is with the falsification of this. Because simplicity is such a beautiful ideal, and also because the simple version of the story is always easier to tell than the messy one, people who are in fact not simple will put on a simple facade when they are giving their testimonies. This is a particular problem in terms of the gay/lesbian conversion, because the reality is that simple people are not generally drawn to gay culture in the first place. That's not to say that simple people never experience same sex attraction, but that when they do they don't tend to go and hang out with the radical feminists, leather fetishists, Warholesque sophisticates, etc.
False simplicity, like false humility, false sanctity, and other false virtues, is invariably transparent. It sits in the stomach like rotten milk. That's why gays and lesbians have such a strong reaction against the standard ex-gay testimony -- not because they would react against genuine simplicity if they were to encounter it, but because those of us who labour under the disadvantage of complexity must be honest about the complications of our conversions.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
I was less relieved. We worked quite a bit to get the back-of-the-book text into a form that would suggest that this wasn't the standard sappy-clappy ex-gay conversion testimonial. For some reason, though, this standard keeps cropping up in various places.
For example, the first time that I did a radio interview to promote the book, I was strangely disappointed at the end of it. It took a couple of minutes thinking to figure out why; then I realized that I had been somehow or other guided into giving that standard testimonial. The "I felt God calling to my heart, and then He made me straight. Ain't Jesus wonderful!" story. Blech.
I'm not sure why, but for some reason Catholic publishers, radio hosts, etc. seem to be under the impression that modern Catholics want to hear this kind of rubbish. There's a sense that the streamlined, perfect, all-to-easy, glowing reparative therapy tale is going to be "edifying" to any poor sodomites who happen to tune in.
The reality, of course, is quite different. People with same-sex attractions are never edified by the standard testimonial, because they don't believe it. They don't believe it, because it isn't true. It's too good to be true. It's too clean. Not messy enough. More to the point, it's bad plotting. It's a contrived tale: very predictable. You can tell exactly what is going to happen at every point along the road, the end is implicit in the beginning, and there are no surprises, no twists, no unexpected upsets in the plot. It is a tale told by a Hollywood script-writer, full of cliches and stereotypes, signifying nothing.
Real conversion stories are dramas scripted by God. They're better than Euripedes and Shakespeare. They're weirder than Pinter. They're peppered with strange and bizarre characters. They involve absurd twists like "Saul of Tarsis, on his way to persecute the Christians, sees a vision of Jesus and falls down blind on the road to Damascus."
Only when a tale has this sort of reality does it have any chance of edifying. Because people can tell a forgery when they see one. They can recognize the air-brushing on our autobiographical testimonials. And that never fails to disedify.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Perhaps I am a little myopic on this point (Keat's "Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty," is the sole philosophic statement that has survived in my psyche throughout all of the various shifts and turns of belief over the years), but I think that this is something that goes beyond me.
The age of Reason is over. By that I don't mean that reason is no longer valid, or that it is no longer able to elucidate new truths. I mean that people, on the whole, are no longer able or willing to receive the truth garbed in the robes of reason. She was twisted and mutilated by modernism; "rational self-interest" has led to deeply exploitative and inhuman forms of commerce; "rational" scientific and technological progress has ushered in a Culture of Death; "rational" men may argue rationally that abortion is good and infanticide justifiable. I suspect that it will be some time before Reason has recovered sufficiently that people will be able to rely on her. For the moment, then, truth, if it is going to be communicated beyond the insular circle of people who still believe in St. Thomas Aquinas, must be framed in different terms. The image, not the argument, will win the day.
This, I think, is the meaning behind Dostoyevski's statement that "Beauty will save the world." It is the meaning behind Solzhenitsyn's Nobel Prize address and it is the current of hope that runs through John Paul II's Letter to Artists.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Such are a writer's anxieties. I was glad to discover that the book reads fairly well, but I found that I hit the end of it without having a clear picture of the lesbian relationship that is supposed to be at the centre of the story. There are two reasons for this: the first is that I can speak as openly as I like about the things that are mine -- my sins, my thoughts, my experiences -- however there is a certain cloak of privacy behind which my ex-girlfriend has to be allowed to hide. It isn't my place to reveal her (which is why her name is changed, in the text, to Michelle). The second reason is that there is a lack of anything to say. The relationship started out with a great deal of real content. We shared the same loves, finished each others sentences, did everything together. By the end, there was nothing except for the crutch of a mutually shared fantasy life. The friendship could literally not survive beyond the end of the sexual relationship, because it had already died, suffocated beneath one make-believe relationship after another. We had stopped interacting, really, with one another long before the end came, it just wasn't apparent.
This is why I am terribly opposed to all of those "how to fix your sex-life" articles that advise married couples to indulge in a little mutual fantasy in order to spice things up. When the person that you are making love in your mind to is not the same person who is actually before you, the real relationship dies. The spice is there, sure, but beneath it the meat of the relationship rots away and eventually decays into dust. Eventually there is nothing at all, nothing to say to one another, and nothing to say about one another, because the person who you allegedly love is no longer someone that you know.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
In this case, the cutting edge news was that some gay celebrity had called some straight celebrity a "faggot," which of course had produced statements by GLAAD, and a general outcry of utterly ludicrous proportions. But this is not limited to the gay community, or even the politically correct community. The same sort of thing crops up on the right-wing side of the fence when the spotlight is turned on any person or agency that might have said something that could have been construed as being pro-abortion, or because a Catholic organization allowed someone who once voted for a gay-rights bill to speak on an unrelated subject at a dinner, and so on and so forth.
There's a kind of pettiness about this, no matter who does it. It's the culture wars equivalent of sending out the troops to defend a couple square centimetres of squalid, barren, shrapnel covered ground, and it produces an interminable squabble in which the stakes are practically nothing at all. Worse, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth of anyone who comes across it and is not firmly on-side, and it helps to trivialize the issues.
Monday, June 22, 2009
Now, I will grant you this: the man's habit, dress, etc. were extremely effeminate, but the reasons for this are clear, and they are fundamentally religious. Elagabalus was from the orient (Syria, not China), and was interested in the oriental mystery cults, several of which involved the sort of "spiritual marriage" motif that characterizes both ancient and modern gnosticism and some of Jungian psychology. This is the idea that within the individual live both the feminine and the masculine principle, and that it is necessary to bring both of these out in order to achieve internal balance and harmony. It was not uncommon for men within these religions to consent to become eunuchs in order to achieve union with the gods and goddesses that they served. (Salammbo includes a priest of Tanit who is an absolutely wonderful character within this genre -- rendered with Flaubert's typical devotion to historical detail.)
Reading the modern notion of "transgender" into the eunuch-theology of the mystery religions is typical of a kind of anachronistic compression of history, in which myopic contemporary ideologies are pasted pell-mell onto the past, without any respect for context or culture. Post-modern queer theorists have pointed out -- often in award-winning books and theses -- that this is sloppy and absurd.
Monday, June 15, 2009
I was reading Gibbon, and was struck by his wry little footnote where he reflects that of the first fifteen Roman Emperors, "Claudius was the only one whose taste in love was entirely correct." Even if we assume that Kinsey's inflated "one in ten" statistic is accurate, we should only expect that 1.3 of these men would be homosexual/bisexual in his inclinations. Two would be within normal statistical deviation, three would be a little odd but perhaps explicable if we theorized that the Claudians were carrying a male homosexuality gene, but twelve of thirteen does seem a little improbable.
Perhaps the numbers could be trimmed a little. We could assume the Julius Ceasar's alleged carryings-on with a certain foreign King were just scandal cooked up by his detractors. We might admit that Augustus was subject to similar scurrility. With Tiberius and Caligula, however, their sexual proclivities are well substantiated; Nero married male eunuchs on two occasions; Trajan's male lovers were widely known, and Hadrian had his favourite, Antinous, deified. Even if we go out of our way to doubt the evidence of bisexuality amongst Roman Emperors, it has to be admitted that at least fifty percent of them were involved in same-sex relationships.
Which means that the cause of their same-sex attractions was not inborn. It was not the result of social ostracism during their formative years. It was not caused by the uterine environment. The only possible reasonable hypothesis is to conclude that their same-sex interests were caused by cultural and environmental factors -- by the availability of handsome youths interested in a bit of political prostitution, by the social ideals surrounding homosexuality in high Roman society, by the privileges of imperial power, and so on. Not by DNA.
Friday, June 12, 2009
In any case, that's not what I wanted to say. There was a point, where I was working on the book, and I was wandering around in conflict about the state of the culture. I had written several times over that I didn't think that the "culture wars" mentality was especially helpful in most ways -- it's fine if by "culture war" you mean "spiritual warfare that takes place within the context of the society at large, and which is really just a reflection of the interior war against powers and principalities that takes place within the soul of the individual." If your idea of "fighting the culture war" is "becoming a Saint," then that's a good thing. But usually it means running around and trying to "win back" the culture by rolling back the clock to 1950, or standing around and waving signs at gay pride parades, or fighting battles against the right of Krispy Kreme doughnuts to use the word "choice" (in a completely non-abortion related way) in some of their advertising.
So I was thinking about the culture, and the culture wars, and I was sitting in a cafe down the street, and leafing through a copy of Toronto Life. There was a story there about a group of young people who were waging a campaign to "reclaim public space." They weren't going to do anything particularly anarchic -- just go down to Yongue St., dance to some relatively lame music, and wave glow-in-the-dark batons around in the air in order to proclaim that community is still alive in Toronto. The word "pomo" appeared in the text, to describe the sort of play-becomes-rebellion mentality that prompted this activity.
My reaction was, perhaps, not the typical right-wing conservative response. I didn't think, "young radicals making trouble," or "what a bunch of lame posers." For a moment I caught a glimmer of something that underlies the entire appeal of post-modernity: it is the reaction of my generation to the fact that we live in a really quite spectacularly insane and dysfunctional environment. It is a reaction against the "Culture of Death" -- a culture so concerned with efficiency that it actually becomes an act of social rebellion to wave around light rods in the street, or sing songs while you wash your windows, or go out "guerilla gardening" (for those who don't know, this means descending on a piece of ugly public space during the middle of the night, armed with spades and flowers, and planting things without going through the proper channels and getting city permission.) It is not the post-modernists who are crazy; it's the people who think you would have to be crazy to do anything in down-town Toronto except shuffle mindlessly down the street and mumble into your cell-phone.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
The issue is whether or not there should be a legal obligation for persons infected with HIV to tell potential sexual partners about their serostatus. From a Catholic point of view this is a total no-brainer: not only is it unjustifiable to knowingly expose someone to the risk of a deadly illness without telling them, it is gravely immoral to expose them to that risk even if you do tell them.
The issue is not, however, that simple. What you are looking at here is a sub-culture of men who have been encouraged to root their identity in their sexuality, who have been told that being "who they are" is synonymous with celebrating a gay lifestyle, and who are accustomed to see any attempt to curtail or moderate their sexual activities as stigmatization or condemnation. On a deeper level, there is the fact that many people involved in homosexuality have an essentially compulsive relationship with their sexuality -- the experience of being wholly unable to give up same-sex activities is genuine, and in many cases habit and psychological dependency really do diminish culpability. Like any compulsive behaviour, the urge to engage is particularly aggravated during times of extreme stress or loneliness -- and there are few things more stressful, or more isolating, than a seropositive result on an HIV test.
Now this does not mean, in my opinion, that laws holding HIV positive individual accountable for their sexual activities should be struck down. According to the HIVstigma web-site, 1 in 4 men who have sex with other men in Toronto are HIV positive. Despite the various sophistic arguments to the contrary, the reality is that disclosure is a very real moral obligation weighing on those who are infected -- not for the sake of the "good, upright," monogamous Christian folk, who really have no personal stake in the issue at all, but for the sake of the 3 in 4 gay men who have not yet felt the sword of Damacles dangling over their beds. It does mean, however, that the issue has to be dealt with compassionately, in a way that helps men in this position to discover that that moral obligations are a means of freedom, and not merely another way of stigmatizing homosexuals.
Monday, May 25, 2009
I remember discussing babies with my girl-friend at some point, and both of us came to the same conclusion: neither of us felt that we had any maternal instincts, so we weren't inclined to go through all of the rigmarole and head-ache involved in trying to become pregnant without the (direct) involvement of a man. It's a common enough meme circulating through the public mind-space of young women today; it is somehow assumed that if I don't have that traditional feminine "Ah! Can I hold it?" reaction to other people's babies, then I'm just not cut out for maternity.
The maternal instinct, however, is something deeper than that. I will be honest, I don't have a great deal of interest in other babies. They're cute, and I try to act suitably impressed when I'm presented with them, but on some level my reaction is still that sort of masculine, "Oh. Yeah, it's a baby. Does it do anything yet?"
My babies are a different matter. I have five now (the smallest one is currently trying to make up her mind about whether she wants to come out or not), and, not entirely surprisingly, I have a tremendous amount of maternal feeling towards them. It was something that surprised me when I had my first. I had always associated maternity with a certain sort of personality: the organized, practical, PTA, Sunday-school-teacher type. My own mother. I think in part that my belief that I had no maternal instincts was really the profound sense that I could never be that kind of mother, and, on the other hand, the feeling that somehow being a mother meant being all of those other things.
Now, of course, the stereotype is different: Mom no longer bakes apple pie and makes quilts to sell at the Church bazaar (my mother does -- but she also wears "Genuine Antique Person" sweaters and proudly encourages her grandchildren to call her "Grandma" in public even though she looks young enough to pass as their mother.) The new Mom is still organized, but instead of going to the PTA she arranges play-dates for the tots, takes them to kinder-gym, and drives them to soccer games in her extra-safety-feature-enhanced mini-van. Naturally, she is more liberated than the old Mom, so she also takes time out for herself from her frazzled day to drink new-age herbal teas.
What both of these images have in common, is that they have nothing whatsoever to do with the profound mystery of femininity, nor with the essence of maternity, nor with the intersection between the dignity and vocation of woman and the individual and irreplicable vocation of each particular woman. What I discovered, to my joy and my surprise, was that there is absolutely no contradiction between my self and my motherhood. Becoming a mother did not mean becoming a soccer mom, or a PTA mom, or an All-American apple-pie mom, or a hyper-efficient liberated business mom. I didn't have to buy into any of the marketypes that advertisers like to use to sell overpriced, trendy mom-friendly products in parenting magazines. I was able to remain myself. In fact, I suspect that I'm a better mother for being myself than if I tried to become the picture-perfect mother in the mini-van ad.
Saturday, April 4, 2009
I sat down, the other day, to watch an old cinema verité film called Titicut Follies. Overall, I am inclined to agree with other reviewers on the movie: it is one of the best documentary films that I've ever seen, and I don't recommend that you view it. It is definitely very good, and it is, equally definitely, extremely disturbing and hard to watch.
It is a documentary about a mental asylum in the late 1960's, and it confirms an apprehension that I have always had about the psychiatric profession: that it contains more than a few men who are, in fact, far more dangerously and pervasively insane than their patients. This is not to say that all, or even most, people in the psychological professions are evil scientists, mad-men, or Nazi doctors, but that there is a definite risk of a certain sort of pathological personality considering itself fit to correct the neuroses that it perceives in others.
What has this to do with homosexuality? Objectively, probably not very much. Subjectively, it connected with several things that were already on my mind. First of all, my viewing of the film happened to coincide with re-reading the sections of Simon LeVay's Queer Science that concern the “treatments” given to homosexual offenders by contemporaries of the doctors portrayed in Titicut, often in similar institutions and under similar conditions. Secondarily, it played into a larger dialogue that I've been carrying on with myself about the problem of reorientation therapies.
Now obviously most modern reorientation therapists would never even consider using aversion therapy, or electroshock, or any of the weird drugs that were invented and tried over the course of twentieth century to “cure” homosexuals of their inclinations. They are careful to belabour the point that the kind of therapy that they offer will be of benefit to the client even if a heterosexual orientation is never achieved, and so on and so forth. Still, I find myself with a sort of uncomfortable misgiving surrounding the topic.
Perhaps it is the emphasis on heterosexuality that raises my shackles – not because I think that some people are fundamentally gay and that it is harmful to try to force them to change their orientation, but because I don't think that anyone is fundamentally gay, so when the emphasis is on “orientation” change, I'm forced to wonder exactly what it is that the clinician and his patient are trying to change? Or perhaps it is that some of the techniques that I know have been used – and some of the techniques that are still in use in some places – seem to have much more to do with achieving heterosexuality than with achieving peace in Christ.
It is not that heterosexuality, or rather, freedom from disordered sexual impulses of any kind (and there are more than enough disordered heterosexual fantasies and inclinations floating about), is not a desirable goal, but that it has to be the fruit of a higher pursuit. It's rather like searching for a husband: most of the people I know who desperately want to get married are wholly unable to form a lasting relationship with a member of the opposite sex. Some of them are unable to form any kind of relationship with the opposite sex at all. The reason in simple: they've put the cart before the horse. Marriage, at least in a culture that doesn't do the arranged marriage thing, is the fruit of a relationship. If you start out trying to figure out whether this person is or is not the “one,” even before there is the slightest scrap of a real relationship from which to make such a determination, you're almost guaranteed to behave in ways that prevent a real relationship from ever forming. If you forget about getting married, and get on with the business of forming human relationships and of doing whatever you're supposed to be doing with yourself in the present, then marriage, if you are called to it, will follow. If you stare myopically into the pool of potential marriage candidates, on the other hand, you will probably end up a spinster.
The same thing is true of chastity. It is something that arises as the fruit of a relationship with God, and it is something that happens in accord with the timing of grace. A therapist might, in some cases, be able to be an instrument of that grace but only, I think, if the purpose of the therapy is to achieve interior freedom, and not to achieve heterosexual functioning, or a heterosexual “orientation.” As in the case of the single person, the homosexual who is trying to achieve chastity needs to put the horse first, and the cart second; to work on relating to Christ and to others in his or her life in a healthy, fulfilling way. If heterosexual attractions are supposed to arise as a result of this, they will. If a call to the married life is in the cards, it will happen. Indeed, I'm inclined to say that if it is supposed to happen, it will happen so easily, so naturally, and so surprisingly that all the hullabaloo about the struggle and difficulty of reorientation will seem like a very bizarre sort of joke.