Saturday, December 8, 2012

Black and White


(It is morning. Light spills through a salvaged stained-glass window onto the floor or a well-furnished sitting room. Jeremiah, a man in his mid-sixties, is sitting next to the fireplace flipping through a sketchbook while Catullus sips a cup of coffee.)

Catullus: Jeremiah...
Jeremiah: Yes, Catullus.
Catullus: Do you honestly believe that what we do is wrong?
Jeremiah: I assume you mean the sex? Yes, I think it's wrong...
Catullus: Why?
Jeremiah: We've discussed this before. It never goes anywhere, so unless something has changed I don't see what you're hoping to gain.
Catullus: It's just something Germanicus said. He accused me of seducing you. Not in those words, of course, Germanicus is one of those charmingly inept people who never really understand what they're saying. That's why it bothers me, because it's not really his sort of thought – which means that probably some god or other put it into his mouth.
Jeremiah: I see. I've always assumed that when you seduce me you're aware that that's what you're doing.
Catullus: Of course I'm aware of it...but...he said it like it's not a game. Like I'm violating your conscience and undermining your free will or something.
Jeremiah: And you want me to mollify your conscience by explaining why I think homosexual sex is wrong so that you can shoot my arguments full of holes and feel justified in continuing as you were.
Catullus: No. I actually intend to listen this time. I'm going to try to seriously understand your point of view. Promise.
Jeremiah: Well it's a sin.
Catullus: Simple as that?
Jeremiah: Simple as that. Either you can accept it on my authority, or you can wait and find out for yourself.
Catullus: That's completely unfair and no kind of argument. You're older, so you're right. Well I can find old people who agree with me too you know.
Jeremiah: Catullus, I can give you proper arguments if you want them. Maybe they'll work for you, but I doubt it.
Catullus: Why's that?
Jeremiah: Because they didn't work for me, and I was a lot more committed to making them work...I spent eighteen and a half years trying to make them work, and I've got nothing to show for it but an annulment and a son who won't even use my last name. That's why I don't think they'll help. I can still run through them if you like.
Catullus: Can you give me a list of titles to see if any of them interest me?
Jeremiah: There's the complementarity argument. The argument from aesthetics. The argument from St. Paul. The argument from the Church fathers. The argument from the obligation to perpetuate the species. The argument from the irrationality of lust. The argument from slavery to the passions. The argument from the interior logic of sexuality. The argument from the good of the society --
Catullus: I've heard all those. They're the arguments that I shot down last time.
Jeremiah: I've got one I made up myself based on McLuhan's theory of media. It has to do with the person becoming a servomechanism of his sexuality. The idea is that when sex as a medium reverses its donative and procreative potentials, it becomes rapacious and destructive. Instead of the person being an end in himself and sex being a medium for the creation of ends in themselves, sex becomes an end in itself and consequently a medium for the destruction of the person... I think I kept my marriage going a full extra year with that one.
Catullus: (Golf clap) Very clever, Miah. You're right, it doesn't help.
Jeremiah: The reason the arguments don't help is that they're mostly arguments in favour of the beauty and goodness of heterosexual marriage. But if you're married to a woman who won't sleep with you because she thinks you're a disgusting pervert, and if it's hard to argue with her because the truth is you can't sleep with her without imagining that she's a boy, then there's really no theological abstraction that's got a chance.
Catullus: Yes, I can see that without having to put myself and some poor woman through 18 years of hell. But given that that is your experience, why on earth do you think that homosexuality is wrong? You have to have a reason. It can't be just...because.
Jeremiah: Catullus, it's a sin, and it's punishable by death. God knows why. I don't claim to know.
Catullus: AIDS is not a punishment for homosexuality. If God is trying to say anything with it – which I think is a dubious proposition – it's that people shouldn't be recklessly promiscuous.
Jeremiah: Well it's certainly a sin for me to place your life at risk.
Catullus: “As though to breathe were life.”
Jeremiah: “Life piled on life is all too little and as one to me.” Yes, I know. But your life is not just your own.
Catullus: Yes, I realize. “It belongs to God.”
Jeremiah: I mean it also belongs to your father, and to your siblings, and to posterity. If you die young because of me, I have no doubt that I will be held accountable for all of of the works of art that you could have produced if I'd kept my pants on.
Catullus: Jeremiah, if you had kept your pants, I would have been left to learn art from Ms. Macintire. Assuming I'd survived the ordeal, I'd probably be staging non-object non-event works for the Ontario Arts Council or producing animated goddesses to sell tampons.
Jeremiah: I would have taken you on as my apprentice even if you hadn't seduced me you know.
Catullus: No you wouldn't have. You were terrified. I was an occasion of sin. An occasion, in fact, of the precise sin that destroyed your marriage. A beautiful boy, a student, a constant source of temptation, and if you got caught, probably a lawsuit and jail time. I wasn't worth it.
Jeremiah: You were worth it. That's why you're still here.
Catullus: I know I was, but you did need convincing. You were worth it too, so let's drop all of this nonsense about how much harm you've done me and how you're going to have to account to the Creator for it. Without you I was a lonely teenager with loads of talent, no skill, and a morbid fascination with the possibility of self-slaughter. Without me you were a miserable old sodomite who had lost his faith in God, humanity, and beauty, who produced commercial bullshit in order to pay for the pleasures that kept him numb. I would add that you got that way by trying to do what your church told you to.
Jeremiah: Not exactly. You have to understand, Catullus, I didn't end up there by being a good Catholic. I became that way by trying to be a good legalist. There's a difference. You can't please God simply by following rules anymore than you can make a masterpeice by doing a paint-by-number.
Catullus: That's my argument! You can't steal it!
Jeremiah: Really? I thought I heard it in a sermon.
Catullus: No. You heard it from me the last time we had this fight.
Jeremiah: Well, then it was a more productive fight than I thought. I've since considered what you said about legalism, and it makes sense out of a great many things that I found it impossible to forgive God for.
Catullus: I didn't think men were supposed to 'forgive' God. I thought we were supposed to grovel in humble supplication, beat our breasts and cry “Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!
Jeremiah: Mmm. But it's impossible to really recognize your own fault in something until you've forgiven the other party. For example, until recently I found it impossible to forgive the Church for giving Dorothea her annulment. I felt like they'd put the rubber stamp on her unforgiveness and declared all of my best efforts to be null. I still went through the charade of feeling guilty, but really I felt like I'd done everything possible and God was being unfair. That made it impossible to repent.
Catullus: But Jeremiah, the church is being unfair. You did do everything possible, and the reason that you failed was that the standard was utterly unreasonable.
Jeremiah: You can never acheive anything great unless you're striving towards an impossible standard.
Catullus: I have no problem with that, provided it's understood that the impossible standard is an ideal. The problem with Catholic sexual morality is that you have to be a Saint just to get a passing grade.
Jeremiah: No. You just have to be ready to admit that you're not a Saint.
Catullus: Yes, but what's the point in it? You strive towards the standard, you discover it's impossible, and then you despair. Where do you go from there?
Jeremiah: You only despair if you're more concerned with following the rules than with trying to have a relationship with God. I've had students like that...only interested in their grades, not in the work. You can't learn anything that way.
Catullus: No...I see that. I suppose it's really that the standard isn't just unreasonable, it's insane. It's not even possible to imagine your marriage as anything other than a travesty. It was clearly ill-conceived from the beginning.
Jeremiah: Yes...that's true. Probably that's why they annulled it. I'd never thought of it that way.
Catullus: So even your church acknowledges that your marriage was a sham, but you still think that homosexuality is a sin. Where does that leave us? What is this golden ideal that we're supposed to be chasing in order to acheive great things?

(End of Part VII)

9 comments:

  1. Catullus, I think you are arguing from a deficient premise. Is love not love without involving the practice of sex? Is the involvement of plumbing essential to the expression of real affection? Could Jeremiah not have taken you on as an apprentice without accepting you as a catamite? History contains very many examples of a true and even romantic love that stayed within the boundaries God and the Church have set for sexual practice. Temptation is not irresistible, nor is any particular sin inevitable.

    Let's put it on this personal basis: I love, deeply and strongly (and, yes, truly do desire) someone that would give me whatever I asked. That love, and his knowledge of its presence, and his love offered in return do not depend upon my entry (or his) into that sin. Honestly, I know it to be stronger for not having been suffered to go there.

    In short, sex need not be the result of love, and love need not always involve sex. I see most of the argument on this issue (from either side) to proceed as if the contrary were true.

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  2. Ed, you've just argued yourself into sex between a man and a woman should only occur when a woman is fertile, that its only reason should be procreation ...

    Your statement, "I know it to be stronger for not having been suffered to go there." So, then why wouldn't the argument be that married couples should know "the being stronger for not having been suffered to go there"?

    Mutual support of the spouses, and allaying of concupiscence shouldn't even enter the hierarchical order of the marriage debt ... according to your view.

    Why are married couples not counseled to practice abstinence in regards to limiting family size? Horror of horrors, that's just way too hard. We've got reductionist science to check temperatures, appearance of mucus ... wow, now, married couples can have their proverbial cake and eat it, too: non-procreative sex with all the goodies.

    NFP (and annulment, I would add) is the Church's way of finding a way, when there ain't no way: very Jesuitical, very legalistic. Goodness, what did those millions upon millions of couples do through the centuries who didn't have the current annulment business available to them despite horrendous marital conditions, didn't have the luxury of finding a new spouse, didn't have the 'science of timing ovulation' to prevent pregnancy, regardless of the supposed 'openness to pregnancy'.

    What truly is the difference between the use of science to time fertility, fertilizing the egg, and the science of preventing implantation? What happens to the 50-70% of fertilized eggs that never implant and no science was used to prevent implantation?

    And, what by the way, happened through the centuries to married couples that used anal intercourse to prevent pregnancy? And, by all accounts this was fairly standard practice in many places. The biggest users of buggery throughout the centuries were not gays, but str8's ... a little known fact, by the way.

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  3. Of course you can have love without sex. If I didn't believe that, I would leave Jeremiah and go off on the quest for some erotic never-never land. I know that we are fast approaching the day when love will no longer be about sexual passion and vacations and Europe, and it will be about sponge baths and bed pans. Accepting that has involved an awful lot of growing up. What I don't see is why love must necessarily preclude sex just because it happens to be between two men.

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  4. Teresa, you misread me. My argument was very limited. There appeared to be an argument that love necessarily had to lead to sex. My argument was that that is a non sequitur, that love and sex may be linked (should be linked) but are not necessarily linked.. The two questions need to be separated or the argument fritters away into a logical dither. There is sex without love, and there is love without sex. Once that is recognized, it becomes possible to begin thinking about what sex is good and what isn't. Before it is recognized, one falls into all sorts of logical traps.

    Incidentally, I fully share your difficulty in distinguishing NFP from "artificial birth control and other techniques -- the finding of a way where there ain't one. Too much hairsplitting for me.

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  5. Points of clarification:

    So there's an age difference so huge that the two men are separated by several generations, and have vastly different maturity levels and life goals?

    And at the outset of the relationship Catullus was a teenager under the authority and influence of a mentor-figure... whom he perceives as having helped him advance his career?

    The older and more mature man has HIV/AIDS?

    The family/friend support networks of both men are mostly unaware or unsupportive of the relationship?

    Jeremiah, if I may suddenly rudely appear in your living room and life uninvited, may I also ask, have you sought treatment for depression?

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    Replies
    1. John,

      I initially refused to participate in this because I did not, as you put
      it, want strangers butting into my living room and my life. However since
      Catullus has bullied me into it, I'm going to answer properly.
      I am aware of my situation, and I have not neglected the obvious courses of
      action. I've been through marriage counseling, treatment for homosexuality,
      treatment for internalized homophobia, treatment for depression and
      treatment for alcoholism. Some of it has helped, none of it has been
      especially successful. I've ultimately come to the conclusion that I don't
      need drugs and I don't need a therapist, I need a Saviour who is willing to
      be patient with me.
      I recall as a boy being told that one of the Saints had seen people going
      into a dance parlour and had observed that their Guardian Angels abandoned
      them at the door. I don't know if that is true or not, but I do know that
      Christ will follow you into any Hell that you care to make for yourself. I
      happen to have seen that most clearly in the person of a young man who has
      been willing to forgive me a great deal. I know that in the usual fashion
      of human beings, I am nailing him to the Cross because I see the image of
      God in him. I also realize that eventually I am going to have to let go of
      that image in order to obtain the reality. I have, however, become very
      wary of pretending to have virtues which I do not in fact possess. There
      is, at present, a kind of grim grace working in my life that will force my
      repentance in the fairly near future and I am trying to submit to that, to
      co-operate with it as a form of mercy. I don't think that exonerates me,
      but perhaps it explains.

      God Bless,

      Jeremiah

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  6. Jeremiah, I am grateful for your explanation. I am not interested in your exoneration. But I am worried that someone has dragged you into this to make a moral case against homosexuality, otherwise I think I’d prefer to have this exchange privately.

    I profoundly know that feeling of not needing a therapist... not just not "needing" one, but being relatively certain that a therapist will do me much more harm than good! But I recently started dating a very patient and sweet man (my own mental/emotional and chronological age, by the way...) who has had a much more positive experience of therapy both personally and professionally.

    He sees a therapist each week. He also does research in psychology and passionately believes in it. He is applying to grad school programs around the country based on whether he feels they "care about humans." So even as he defends psychology, extending its boundaries through research by making these incredibly important empirical connections between diseases and treatments... he does acknowledge how cold and sterile the scientific study of the mind can be, and how many terrible practitioners there are.

    I bring him into this because many of our first deep conversations would collapse in a heap with me pouring out the litany, the Credo of my woundedness. Our desire to connect was totally frustrated. There was no room for us to truly share anything. We questioned our compatibility, and I asked myself how I could care so deeply and yet fail to demonstrate mature, sincere interest in the other person?

    It has been as simple as disciplining myself to ask open-ended questions and be silent and receptive long enough to hear the answers.

    The partipants of these dialogues are exceptional at getting their perspective out. That's imporant, but I'm waiting to see someone genuinely show prolonged care about the other person. Maybe its the medium? But I see my impatience to be heard, rather than hear, in every speaker.

    I'm trying to listen to what you've said... and care.

    Jeremiah, after trembling with longing in this long Advent you speak of, what if your redemption is as simple as erecting a protective wall (with a locking gate) between the madness that places the crucifying hammer and nails into your hands and those you are intimate with? To say this bestial pain is distinct from me, it is an invader, and I will quarantine it. Not ignore it, but only unlock the gate for those who have the Physician’s skill and ethic, although such people may be few and far between.

    Does that make any sense Jeremiah?

    Healthy boundaries, like antiseptic and a bandaid, are a starting point for healing. Healing takes time, it does not come like lightening or a cold front… or a Bridegroom. The endless wait for a Christ whose image each person constructs out of their own longings can blind us to the opportunity to unburden the Christ before our eyes... the agonizing expectation of a perfect Lover who will follow me into hell may actually prevent me from genuinely loving and fulfilling my need for human love. It can turn the whole conversation inward and frustrate true relating.

    It can also distract from taking action or getting help.

    Healthy boundaries speed healing but also protect others. Its preposterous to "pretend to be virtuous," to pretend to have fortitude, or temperance, or be more just than you are. But you can start by being prudent... to try to obtain some distance and clarity about your situation.

    Jeremiah I apologize for my own part, in the past, in enforcing, joyful and naive, a code of uniform idealism in the Roman Catholic Church that has led you to such total isolation.

    Catullus is not the only person who can break through your sense of isolation.

    I am encouraging you to uncouple the reality of your relationship with Catullus from this convoluted narrative of grace and redemption that you have woven.

    This just doesn’t seem like a healthy adult relationship.

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  7. John,

    I thank you for your response. I am going to answer part of it publicly, and then perhaps we can continue in private if you're still interested.
    I want to be clear that I think there are significant moral differences between a relationship like yours and a relationship like mine. One of the common errors in Catholic thinking on homosexuality is the failure to acknowledge that this is not a uniform phenomenon. The Church offers a one-size-fits-all condemnation of "same-sex genitals acts." That term has always struck me as rather funny, I don't know about you but I've never thought of any particular acts that I've ever engaged in in that way. And of course thinking about it in terms of "homosexual acts" tends to obscure the fact that these are practices which the Church wishes to exclude regardless of whether they occur in a heterosexual or a homosexual context. I will certainly not involve myself in the gross hypocrisy of trying to tell you that what you are doing is wrong; to be perfectly honest, I hope that you and your partner are able to find the kind of peace that has eluded me.
    I appreciate the apology, though I have to assume my share of the guilt for that particular variety of niavete myself. For a long time I succumbed to the temptation to think of life as a moral obstacle course where any problem could be solved by flipping through the Catechism, and where salvation was secured by earning spiritual brownie points. I had to undergo an experience of absolute failure, and a complete loss of faith before I was able to adequately relinquish the idol of my own sanctity; a very painful process.
    What you said about processes as opposed to instantaneous transformations resonated deeply with my experience. It's very easy to get drawn in by the enchantment of the classic conversion story, to imagine that one morning the prodigal son comes to his senses, clicks his heels together three times, and is back at the Father's doorstep. It's much less comfortable to think of the long road back from that foreign land. I made that mistake myself when I returned to my faith, and I caused Catullus a lot of needless pain, confusion and anxiety as a result. Fortunately he is wise enough to see into my blind-spots, and although he will put up with almost any amount of human weakness he has a very low tolerance for bullshit. He pointed out that my overwrought contrition and grand intentions "never to sin again" were a form of self-serving hypocrisy and I've been trying to cure myself of that fault ever since.
    There is a great deal more to be said, but most of it involves a level of self-disclosure that would be more comfortable in private. If you're interested, you can reach me via Catullus at catulluskirkman@gmail.com. Just put my name in the subject line and he'll make sure I get it.

    With sincere respect,

    Jeremiah

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