Friday, April 27, 2012

Heterosexual Bypass Surgery

I recently had a run in with Father Harvey's argument that there is no such thing as a homosexual orientation, because all people are innately heterosexual. I think this is a lovely and rather clever argument which suffers from only two drawbacks: 1) it uses language in a way that is contrary to common usage, and 2) it's not compelling enough to justify its incomprehensibility.

Point 1 is fairly straightforward. When most people talk about homosexuality as a sexual orientation they're talking experientially, not metaphysically. Unless you happen to be talking to a very committed gay philosopher who believes that his homosexuality forms the ontological matrix of his personhood, this argument commits a category error. The average gay, when he says “I'm homosexual,” means, “I experience predominate/exclusive sexual attraction for members of my own sex.” When he says “My homosexuality is innate,” he means, “I have had homosexual attractions for as long as I've had any attractions at all, and the tendency to have such attractions has probably been with me since birth.” The statement, “you are actually innately heterosexual” is meaningless in this context, because it has absolutely no referrent within his experience. It may be true, but it is true in a way that risks being alienating because it is not recognizable.

Truth should not be like that. Truth is effective when it is coupled with beauty in such a way that it resonates within the chambers of the heart. The heartstrings are plucked so that there is immediate recognition: Yes! That. Ita est. There is no need for a clever argument because it's obvious that the truth has been spoken, that the strings of my heart and the strings of the heart of the other are playing in tune. Christ's statements are always like that. He never argues. He just says things, and if your ears are open, and the heart is properly tuned, then it is obvious that what He's saying is True.

Which brings me to the second objection that I have with this argument. It states that the fundamental sexual orientation of the human person is heterosexual. I politely disagree. I think that the fundamental sexual orientation of the human person is Christological. All men are by nature designed to desire one flesh union with Christ, to be espoused to the Divine Bridegroom. All sexual attraction is merely a sign which points towards this. After the Resurrection of the Body there will be no human marriages – heterosexual marriage, for all of its dignity and loveliness, is a passing and ephemeral thing. The ethical dimension of heterosexuality therefore derives from its role as sign, from the fact that the spousal meaning of the human body points towards this ultimate meaning of human life.

For the majority of people, therefore, heterosexuality serves as a potentially ethical route for the expression of eros. It is not, however, essential. As John Paul II points out in Theology of the Body, eros has a multiplicity of meanings. It is in the Platonic definition that he sees a possible reconciliation between eros and ethos: “If we suppose that “eros” signifies the inner power that “attracts” man to the true, the good, and the beautiful, then we also see a road opening up within the sphere of this concept toward what Christ wanted to express in the Sermon on the Mount.” (TOB 47:5) This is a powerful idea, which suggests an alternative way forward for those who find the “straight” road impassible. Instead of trying to reorient homosexual desire towards heterosexual desire, it is possible to simply bypass heterosexuality and move directly towards Goodness, Beauty, Truth. This is the pathway which Socrates describes in the Symposium, a movement from the appreciation of the beauty of the beloved (in Socrates' account, a beautiful male youth), towards the appreciation of physical beauty in all of its forms, and from there an appreciation of the beauty of the mind, the beauty of institutions and laws, the beauty of the sciences and of knowledge, and finally “drawing towards and contemplating the vast sea of beauty, he will create many fair and noble thoughts and notions in boundless love of wisdom; until on that shore he grows and waxes strong, and at last the vision is revealed to him of a single science, which is the science of beauty everywhere,” and “when he comes towards the end will suddenly percieve a nature of wondrous absolute, separate, simple, and everlasting, which without diminution and without increase, or any change, is imparted to the ever-growing and perishing beauties of all other things.”

Yes! That. Ita est.


  1. Thank you for this. The above post is itself true and beautiful—what a neat marriage of form and content.

  2. It's generally demeaning for one to define another's identity without knowing his experiences and philosophy. My questions to Father Harvey would be: Were you there when I was created? Did God tell you the purpose and meaning of my life?

    I consider the movement Fr. Harvey started a betrayal of his role as a healer of the sick. He involved himself in politics to the great harm of his patients. He was not an ethical man. Living chastely is laudable; hating one's ability to love is Satanic.

  3. Well said, Melinda. Ultimately our focus needs to be on the Beauty ever ancient, ever new, of which St Augustine wrote, whether or not we are capable of heterosexual passion. This looks like a good beginning for your talk to the Courage convention.

    BTW @ Frank — From what I've read about Courage, I don't get the impression that the movement or Fr. Harvey advocated hating one's ability to love. It has seemed to me that they advocate loving chastely.

  4. Hi Melinda - I'd be grateful if you could please cite your source for the statement attributed to Fr. Harvey "that there is no such thing as a homosexual orientation." I hope to respond to that statement in a later posting, and I'd like to be able to place it in context.

    As a member of Courage and as someone who worked with Father Harvey for ten years, I don't accept or believe Frank's claims that Fr. Harvey was either unethical or that he hated one's ability to love.

    Fr. Harvey showed hundreds of us the love of Christ through his example of humility, charity, patience, and courage.

    1. Hi Tina,

      It's from a Zenit interview, 2006, "The fact of the matter is that there is only one orientation, the heterosexual orientation. The homosexual tendency is an objective disorder, and if a person has this objective disorder, it is because other things have happened." And later in the same interview, "Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, founder of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, in Encino, California, says it best when he says that there are no homosexuals, just heterosexuals with a homosexual tendency."

  5. Thanks, Melinda - I appreciate it! Will give this some thought and will write something up in the near future.

    Looking forward to meeting you in July!

  6. Hello Melinda,
    Thank you for your post. As a man experiencing same-sex attraction, I find myself agreeing with Fr. Harvey's statement in the sense that experientially, I don't think God ever intended me to be sexually attracted and desire genital intimacy with the same-sex. Ever since I began to experience sexual feelings at puberty, I can't believe acting on these feelings with another man would be right, because it seems so self-evident to me that one of the purposes of sexual activity is procreation and openness to new life. I cannot believe that God would create me with an innate propensity towards mutual masturbation or anal sex, even if it is intensely pleasurable and done as an act of love towards another man. Nevertheless, before I came back to my faith as a practicing Catholic, I was too attached to the pleasures of pornography and masturbation to change my sexual behavior in a way that conforms to the truth about God's design for human sexuality (living chastely), even though I knew "deep down" that what the Church taught was true and resonated with the conviction of my conscience.

    I guess I don't fit the "average" gay, because although I could say that I have always felt different growing up (more sensitive, inclined to the intellectual, artistic and aesthetic, less inclined to take part in sports unlike most of my same-sex peers and men in my life), I can't say for sure that my homosexual desires are innate or have been with me ever since birth. I grew up terribly lonely as a young child, because my father never communicated to me meaningfully, or ever said that he loved me, or even so much desired to spend time with me. I was bullied for being "different" by my same-sex peers, and my mother was a harsh disciplinarian, very critical of my father, and shared her concerns and anxieties with me in a way that was emotionally suffocating. I'm not interested in blaming my family members or my peers, but to state in a straightforward fashion the contents of my experience; I've forgiven them and they have wounds and crosses of their own that may have influenced the way they behaved towards me. Things are much better now with my parents, and I have been trying to understand their own past history as to why they behaved that way towards me. I know I wasn't also the son that I ought to have been towards my parents and I know I have caused them much grief growing up. But I can't help believe that my God-given masculinity must have been affected by these factors and influenced the shape and eventual outcome of my sexual desires. I am seeking reparative therapy to discern the possibility of "healing" my heterosexual potential, which I see as something that is innate to who I am.

    I go to a Courage group as a means of spiritual support in my desire to live a chaste life, but not everyone has the same intention as I have. Most of them are on the journey of re-orienting their eros into the Christological consummation that you have beautifully described without the mediation of a heterosexual relationship. Yet I want to know what it is like to relate to women in a romantic fashion, and love the idea of wanting a family and children of my own in the future. Marriage is supposed to be a school of love in such a manner that it transmutes the "eros" that a man and women have for each other into "agape": self-sacrificial love in the context of raising children, deepening the marital friendship and union of the man and woman in a mannter that draws them "ecstatically" out of themselves in their concrete solicitude and solidarity in loving, nurturing and caring for their children. In this way, I see marital love as an archetypal participation in the mystery of Christ's union with his Church. Marriage builds the kingdom of God, not just here on earth, but in heaven as well in so far as raising children well is preparing Heaven, in cooperation with God, to be filled with saints.

  7. Thanks! I just discovered your blog, and it inspires me to write. I'm working on a blog and a book about our generation's experience of religion, at

    I hope you can check it out! And I hope we can keep up!


  8. “If we suppose that “eros” signifies the inner power that “attracts” man to the true, the good, and the beautiful, then we also see a road opening up within the sphere of this concept toward what Christ wanted to express in the Sermon on the Mount.” John Paul II

    In his book Agape Road, Bob Mumford titles Ch.'s 2&3 The Eros Prison and the Eros Payoff. As you might suspect he has an entirely different view of "eros" that take of John Paul II. I would love to send you a copy of the book if you would read it. Mumford starts his definition of Eros by saying it is: the original unreality and vanity that entered at the fall of man, and holds all creation in bondage. (Romans 8:19 For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. 20 For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, 21 Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.)

  9. Hi Melinda - I've finally put some of my thoughts on this post down in writing. I posted them on my long-neglected blog so as not to take up oodles of space in your comment box.

    Thanks for your patience!

    Here's the link:


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